By Gigi Yellen Kohn, Jewish Sound Correspondent
With some 20 albums to her name, countless awards and glowing reviews from festivals, clubs and concerts worldwide, jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen’s work as bandleader, soloist, and “sideman” is as influential as a music career can be.
Born and raised in the 1960s near Tel Aviv, Cohen fell in love with the clarinet as a student at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa conservatory, where a Dixieland band was part of the training. Her art draws on traditions as diverse as Brazilian, Cuban, blues, folk, and New Orleans, as well as klezmer and classical music. The Jazz Journalist Association has named her Clarinetist of the Year for seven years in a row.
Cohen headlines Seattle Jazz Repertory Orchestra’s 20th anniversary concerts Saturday and Sunday, February 21 and 22, and she’ll also bring her clarinet to Temple Beth Am for an audience-friendly Q&A “From Klezmer to Louis Armstrong: the Art of Anat Cohen” Sunday morning. The performance is organized by SJRO board president and Beth Am member Neal Friedman. Cohen’s trip is cosponsored by the Israeli Pacific Northwest Consulate and Temple Beth Am.
As she told public radio host Terry Gross in 2013, Cohen learned to focus on the way it felt to swing. Brothers Avishai (trumpet) and Yuval (soprano sax), with the same training, have also emerged as part of a generation of major jazz artists from Israel who are now based in New York. As “3 Cohens,” they record and frequently perform together, as they did at Carnegie Hall last year. They all studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
Anat Cohen’s art reflects not only where she comes from geographically, but also where her instrument comes from musically and historically.
“There was a time that clarinet was out of fashion, in a way,” she told Gross. “Actually, people still associate it with — you know, if I tell anybody that I play clarinet and I play jazz, everybody’s first association is, ‘Oh, Benny Goodman!’ The clarinet is still associated with older styles, and with folkloric music. Maybe in Israel the clarinet is associated with klezmer music? So, maybe in people’s minds it’s something that’s either dated, or too religious. And I’m working very hard to put the clarinet into other scenarios.”
Seattle Symphony clarinetist Laura de Luca, whose own career spans the genres, says, “I love Anat’s playing and have a huge respect for her musical voice. She is a rare artist in the sense of the immediacy of her expression…. Musical intelligence comes so directly through her, the clarinet is so integrated with her body, heart and soul.
“There is no real difference between what we are all hoping to voice as musicians,” de Luca continued, “whether we play jazz, classical, folk or rock…it is all about reaching inside and finding the essence and beauty of whatever we are playing, and communicate that outward to our listeners through our unique voice.”
Longtime Seattle klezmer bandleader Shawn Weaver hears joy in Anat Cohen’s music: “Joy is expressed in the most organic way through song and dance. Anat Cohen with her clarinet brings this much needed ruach to America’s sophisticated art form.”