“When I share music with people – other musicians or an audience – it always feels like a celebration to me.”
Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen has won hearts and minds the world over with her expressive virtuosity and delightful stage presence. Reviewing Anat’s 2008 headlining set with her quartet at the North See Jazz Festival, DownBeat said: “Cohen not only proved to be a woodwind revelation of dark tones and delicious lyricism, but also a dynamic bandleader who danced and shouted out encouragement to her group – whooping it up when pianist Jason Lindner followed her clarinet trills on a Latin-flavored number.
With her dark, curly, shoulder-length hair swaying to the beat as she danced, she was a picture of joy.” Anat has been voted Clarinetist of the Year six years in a row by the Jazz Journalists Association, as well as 2012’s Multi-Reeds Player of the Year. That’s not to mention her topping of critics and readers polls in DownBeat magazine several years running. Anat has toured the world with her quartet, headlining at the Newport, Umbria, SF Jazz and North Sea jazz festivals as well as at such hallowed clubs as New York’s Village Vanguard. In September 2012, Anzic Records releases her sixth album as a bandleader, Claroscuro.The album ranges from buoyant dances to darkly lyrical ballads, drawing inspiration from New Orleans and New York, Africa and Brazil. In its ebullient, irresistible variety, Claroscuro encapsulates the description Jazz Police offered of Anat in full flight: “She becomes a singer, a poet, a mad scientist, laughing – musically – with the delight of reaching that new place, that new feeling, with each chorus.” Claroscuro takes its title from the Spanish word describing the play of light and shade (chiaroscuro in Italian).
The album showcases Anat’s fluency in a global set of styles, from creolized New Orleans chanson and the evergreen swing of an Artie Shaw tune to African grooves and Brazilian choro, samba and more. Playing clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor and soprano saxophones, she was joined in the studio by her top-flight working band – pianist Jason Lindner, double-bassist Joe Martin and drummer Daniel Freedman – as well as special guests: trombonist/vocalist Wycliffe Gordon, percussionist Gilmar Gomes and star clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera. Recorded at Avatar Studios in Manhattan, Claroscuro comprises music from America, France, Brazil and South Africa played by kindred spirits from Israel, America, Brazil and Cuba. Reflecting on the naturally communicative, one-take spontaneity of the album, Anat says: “I’m playing with some of my favorite musicians in the world, and we all speak a common language, no matter where we come from.”
Anat was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and raised into a musical family. She attended the Tel Aviv School for the Arts, the “Thelma Yellin” High School for the Arts and the Jaffa Music Conservatory. Jazz captured the youngster’s imagination, and she thrilled to recordings by Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman and Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Anat began clarinet studies at age 12 and played jazz on clarinet for the first time in the Jaffa Conservatory’s Dixieland band. At 16, she joined the school’s big band and learned to play the tenor saxophone; it was this same year that Anat entered the prestigious “Thelma Yellin” High School for the Arts, where she majored in jazz.After graduation, she discharged her mandatory Israeli military service duty from 1993-95, playing tenor saxophone in the Israeli Air Force band. Through the World Scholarship Tour, Anat was able to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she not only honed her jazz chops but expanded her musical horizons, developing a deep love and facility for various Latin music styles. Fellow Berklee students who hailed from Latin and South American countries were inspirational for the young musician: “Hearing them play the samba of Brazil, chacarrera of Argentina and cumbia of Colombia, I loved those rhythms immediately and was drawn to playing them myself,”Anat says.
“The flowing Latin rhythms opened up a whole world of groove to me – and added new layers of expressivity in my jazz playing.” During her Berklee years, Anat visited New York City during semester breaks, making a beeline for the West Village club Smalls to soak up a melting pot of jazz, contemporary grooves and world music in a scene that included such future collaborators as Jason Lindner, Omer Avital and Daniel Freedman. Back in Boston, she played tenor saxophone in myriad contexts and bands, including Afro-Cuban, Argentinean, klezmer, contemporary Brazilian music and classic Brazilian choro. Moving to New York in 1999 after graduating from Berklee, Anat spent a decade touring with Sherrie Maricle’s all-woman big band, The Diva Jazz Orchestra; she also worked in such Brazilian groups as the Choro Ensemble and Duduka Da Fonseca’s Samba Jazz Quintet, along with performing the music of Louis Armstrong with David Ostwald’s “Gully Low Jazz Band.” Anat soon began to bend ears and turn heads; whether playing clarinet, soprano saxophone or tenor saxophone, she won over the most knowing of jazz sages: Nat Hentoff praised her “bursting sound and infectious beat,” Dan Morgenstern her “gutsy, swinging” style, Ira Gitler her “liquid dexterity and authentic feeling,” and Gary Giddins her musicality “that bristles with invention.”
Establishing her own Anzic Records label in 2005, Anat kicked off her discography as a bandleader with Place & Time, a small-combo session of mostly original tunes that was named one of the year’s best debuts by All About Jazz. Her two ambitious releases of 2007 – Noir (presenting Anat with a jazz orchestra) and Poetica (a chamber-jazz feature for her clarinet) – led The New York Times to enthuse over her “warm, singing tone.” Beautifully arranged by Oded Lev-Ari, Noir saw Anat front a large ensemble in numbers from “Cry Me a River” to a medley of “Samba de Orfeu” / “Strutting with Some Barbecue” to the Sun Ra ballad “You Never Told Me That You Care.” Poetica drew from a world of music – popular melodies from Israel, a Jacques Brel song and John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament,” with a mix of jazz quartet settings and pieces arranged for Anat with string quartet by Omer Avital.
Both albums appeared on many year-end best of 2007 lists, including those of JazzTimes, Slate and Paste magazines. The Village Voice spoke of Anat’s “enviable insouciance” and how “she alludes to the mystical in a merry way,” while DownBeat declared: “Noir could be a classic” and added that Anat’s “unforced elegance on clarinet could take her to the top.” The Washington Post said: “Cohen has emerged as one of the brightest, most original young instrumentalists in jazz. . . with a distinctive accent of her own.” Anat’s 2008 release, Notes from the Village, was a showcase for her multi-reed talents in quartet and quintet settings, with the album featuring such original Cohen compositions as the one-world tribal dance “Washington Square Park” and sweetly, gorgeously playful “Lullaby for the Naïve Ones” alongside interpretations that again reflect the leader’s wide enthusiasms – from Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” and John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” to Ernesto Lecuona’s “Siboney” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” In its review, The New York Times said: “Notes From The Village is a resounding confirmation – yes, she is the real deal.” DownBeat awarded the album four stars, stating that “Cohen makes it seem easy, mixing a gift for melody with an improvisational fluidity that has few peers today.” And All Music Guide pointed out: “What makes Cohen’s music so special, aside from the high level of musicianship, is her fertile imagination.
Through all of her efforts as a leader, there’s hardly a speck of filler, but rather a wealth of ideas and the desire to expand the purview of her instrument beyond putative traditional swing.” In 2009, Anat became the first Israeli to headline at the Village Vanguard, the setting for perhaps the most celebrated live recordings in jazz history; the occasion yielded the 2010 release Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard, which captured the leader paying tribute to Benny Goodman and leading a hard-swinging combo with all-stars Benny Green, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. Calling Anat “one to watch,” National Public Radio underscored the contemporary approach the group took to the Goodman book: “Cohen and company treat 1920s and ‘30s material with a relatively free hand; when they get rolling in `Sweet Georgia Brown,’ her rhythm section echoes the thunder of John Coltrane’s quartet.” In its glowing review, All About Jazz singled out the performance of “St. James Infirmary,” saying: “Cohen reaches a state of musical ecstasy. . . as her clarinet moans, sighs, soars and wails with passion and emotion.”
Anat has also recorded three acclaimed albums as part of the 3 Cohens Sextet with her brothers, saxophonist Yuval and trumpeter Avishai: 2003’s One, 2007’s Braid and 2011’s Family (the last two released by Anzic). Declared All About Jazz: “To the ranks of the Heaths of Philadelphia, the Joneses of Detroit and the Marsalises of New Orleans, fans can now add the 3 Cohens of Tel Aviv.” The 3 Cohens band has toured from across the U.S. and Europe to Brazil and Australia, including twice headlining the Village Vanguard. The three siblings – with Anat the middle child to the elder Yuval and younger Avishai – graced the cover of the January 2012 issue of DownBeat. Like the widely praised Braid, the recent Family was recorded in Brooklyn, and the disc features Anat and her brothers in league with a swinging New York rhythm section: pianist Aaron Goldberg, double-bassist Matt Penman and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
About the special rapport she has with her brothers, Anat says: “We can talk without talking. Often, we don’t even have to look at each other onstage. We have such history together that we feel each other through the music.” Several recordings by the Choro Ensemble feature Anat’s clarinet as a key solo voice, including the 2007 Anzic album Nosso Tempo. She has added solos to albums by guitarist Howard Alden (I Remember Django), drummer Teri Lynne Carrington (The Mosaic Project), singer Ann Hampton Callaway (Blues in the Night), percussionist Cyro Baptista (Beat the Donkey and Infinito), trombonist-vocalist Wycliffe Gordon (Hello, Pops!), singer Lila Downs (Shake Away/Ojo de Culebra), pianist Jason Lindner (Now vs. Now and Live at the Jazz Gallery, both on Anzic), the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet (Samba Jazz in Black and White), Sherrie Merricle’s Diva Jazz Orchestra (Live in Concert), pianist Jovino Santos Neto (Veja o Som), singer Amy Cervini (Digging You, Digging Me: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie, Anzic) and singer Melissa Stylianou (Silent Movie, Anzic), among many others. With Anat as executive producer, Anzic has also released albums by the 3 Cohens, Avishai Cohen, Yuval Cohen, Third World Love, Joel Frahm, Joe Martin, Omer Avital, Daniel Freedman, Eli Degibri, Duduka Da Fonseca, Ernesto Cervini and the Waverly Seven.
Anat collaborates regularly with one of her heroes, Cuban-American clarinetist-saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, who introduced her onstage at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex as “one of the greatest players ever of the clarinet.” She plays with George Wein’s Newport All-stars and is a fixture on the New York scene at such clubs as Birdland, starring in a recent tribute to the music of Django Reinhardt, among much else. Anat has also appeared in New York at the Jazz Standard, Blue Note, Iridium, Joe’s Pub and the Jazz Gallery, as well as other top clubs across the country and around the world – Yoshi’s in San Francisco, Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., Regatta Bar in Boston, the Sunset in Paris, Bimhuis in Amsterdam, Jazzclub Fasching in Stockholm, A Trane in Berlin and Zappa in Tel Aviv.
She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Symphony Space in New York, along with Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Boston’s Berklee Performance Center, the ORF-Kulturhaus in Vienna and Belgrade’s Kolarac Hall in Serbia. Anat has played the great jazz festivals the world over, including the JVC, Newport, Chicago, Monterey, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, SF Jazz (San Francisco), Playboy (Los Angeles), Duke Ellington (Washington, D.C.), Montreal, Copenhagen, Jazz a Vienne, Umbria, North Sea (Netherlands), Tudo e Jazz (Brazil), Caesaria (Israel) and Zagreb Jazzarella festivals. Her performances have been broadcast internationally, including by WBGO, WFUV, WNYC and NPR in the U.S. and Radio Netherlands, ORF (Austrian Radio), SR (Swedish Radio) and Radio Bremen (Germany). As the Chicago Tribune says about Anat, “The lyric beauty of her tone, easy fluidity of her technique and extroverted manner of her delivery make this music accessible to all.” Leading up to September’s release of Claroscuro and beyond, Anat will once again be bringing her charismatic stage performances to music lovers around the globe, including multiple dates at the Jazz Standard in July and Newport Jazz Festival in August. She says: “When I share music with people – other musicians or an audience – it always feels like a celebration to me.”