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Anat Cohen: Time To Blossom

By Published: June 18, 2007

What pushed her even more into clarinet again was the Brazilian choro music she discovered and learned to love. The clarinet suited it, with the warm tone she could evoke and the sound of the wood. "We like to call the choro the father of samba and the grandfather of bossa nova. It's an older style. When people think of Brazilian music, they usually think of samba or bossa nova. But there are so many styles all over Brazil, in the north and the south, in the west. One of the founding styles of samba is choro. It's probably the equivalent of ragtime here. It's also a pianistic style. It transfers to the Brazilian ukulele, the cavaquinho, and there's a little Brazilian tambourine, pandeiro. Clarinet is one of the leading solo instruments, and mandolin. Clarinet is actually part of the style.

"I played a little bit in Boston, but I really started to play choro when I came to New York. I was so thrilled to find a style that clarinet fit. There are no limits. You don't have to play louder. There's no amplification. Nobody covers up the clarinet. It really fits. Some of the music is very technical and very virtuoso. Some is very nostalgic. It brought me back to practicing the clarinet. There's a lot of modulation, a lot of keys. I wasn't really listening to clarinet players.

Cohen's influences on clarinet are typical in some respects, but not totally. As a youngster she listened to Benny Goodman. Later when she got into Latin music, it was Paquito D'Rivera. Then Ken Peplowski. "But really what brought me back to play it and made me get my fingering back together was the choro music. Since there weren't that many recordings available, I basically learned if from reading the charts, reading the music and playing with the guys and making my own interpretation. A few years later I went to Brazil and heard some clarinet players there and I thought, 'Wow. This is really cool,' she says with a chuckle.

"I didn't just check out clarinet players. Of course I got to hear Buddy DeFranco and I got to hear Kenny Davern. I was fortunate to see both of them and play with them a little bit at some festivals. I got to really check them out and be on stage, up close, so they were very influential as well.

Her early influences on saxophone were Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon. "They were really inspiring, their whole spirit and the intensity in the sound. Very inspiring. Then I started to go further. Gene Ammons. Illinois Jacquet. Then I passed through a big Coltrane period where that's all I wanted to do, she laughed. "Then I realized it's impossible really. Coltrane, his spirit—the way he plays is so spiritual that it's something that stays—no matter really what style. You don't have to play a Coltrane song or in a Coltrane style for me to feel the spirit and the depth of music. To me, Coltrane symbolizes depth, really profound musicianship.

Continuing to inspire her were the musicians she encountered in New York "that I go out to hear whenever I can. Joe Frahm, Harry Allen, Grant Stewart. A lot of variety. I love Jimmy Greene. There are a lot of cats around. When I go see them I remember why I live in New York and why I do what I do. Everybody is doing their thing and playing their music.

Cohen stayed at Berklee for two and a half years. In 1999, she moved to New York. It was the year after she got a call from the Diva Jazz Orchestra. She eyed New York with a bit of trepidation.

"Growing up in Israel and seeing all the movies of New York, New York was always a very scary place for me. Especially as a woman. Music is music, but still, when you're a woman, somehow walking in the streets, you're a little bit more vulnerable. A bigger target for anything to happen. I was afraid about how I was going to go to New York and walk the streets with my saxophone and go on the subway. I didn't really know how it was going to be. She went out on the road with Diva on a west coast swing and deiced it was time to take the plunge. "I thought: 'Why not live in New York?' Lead a musician's life, like any other man that I know. They go out, they play gigs, they just have their life. I thought I want to do that to. So I decided to move to New York.

Diva was her main gig at first. In order to continue to work, she would play in Boston where she worked with an Afro-Latin band. "At a certain point I said if I'm going to be in Boston then no one is going to call me to work in New York, so I have to just stay in New York, she says. "Since I was really involved with the Brazilian scene in Boston, it was pretty natural when I moved to New York I got involved seriously with the Brazilian scene here. Until today I love the music. There are a lot of different kinds of Brazilian music that is possible to be played here.

Cohen would go to the Zinc bar on Sundays and sit in, and slowly to met people. She continued to fit in with Latin and world music bands, and also got a gig playing the music of Louis Armstrong with David Otswald's Gully Low Band.

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