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Anat Cohen: Time To Blossom

By Published: June 18, 2007

"It was great. I'm very fortunate we started in Boston with the bassist Leonardo Cioglia, who today is leading his own group and doing a lot of things here in New York. From that I grew to play in Duduka DaFonseca's quartet. I met him through the scene. And I play with a Brazilian pop band, playing popular music down in Café Wha [Greenwich Village] every Monday. It's very much show and dance and lights and singers. But a great experience, with Brazilian percussion. And I picked up Portuguese. We did the repertoire of more popular music, which otherwise I wouldn't have gotten a chance to really get into. And the Choro Ensemble, which really became one of my favorite things ever to do. We had a weekly gig every week. We played in a French bistro in the East Village. A weekly gig can definitely keep a band, a band.

She would also listen to Jason Linder's Big Band at Small's in New York and got the chance to sub in. "There was a different approach. More open and stretching and groovy and very inspiring music ... With the Diva Jazz Orchestra, I kept meeting people from the swing scene. Meeting David Ostwald, they've been playing the last six years at Birdland every Wednesday. So I get to play with them I get to do different things. Play with bands in the summer at Central Park and Columbus Circle just for fun, playing New Orleans music. There are a lot of different things I try to do all the time to keep myself available, to stay inspired and to keep growing.

Her first CD came out in 2005 on Anzic, Place and Time with musicians like Jason Linder, Jeff Ballard and Ben Street, and the buzz started to grow. It's been an active and interesting existence. While the club scene is not as vibrant as it once was, Cohen is not dismayed. She says she wasn't around it before, so she has nothing to compare it to. So she forges on, playing in a variety of settings that not only keep her active but keeps it interesting; helps her grow as a musician. But she knows the situation could be better, and that jazz and its artists should be appreciated more.

"But there aren't enough places to play. There aren't enough stages or clubs that care about the music, that care about the artist first and not the customer. It really is about the music. I think probably it's harder times. The economy, I'm not really sure. Maybe the fact that there's so much cable TV. I don't know what the reason it's hard to get people out of the house. I feel people are trying so hard to make the customer happy that the artist becomes secondary.

What's needed, she feels, "are stages and places where artists are able to come and play and listen to each other and interact and get ideas from each other. Not enough musicians do that. There's school, then the people get out of school. And New York is a tough place. There aren't enough places (where we can say) 'Let's just go and hang in this place.' There used to be clubs where musicians could just walk in and hang out. Maybe in the back, but just hang out have a beer and check out other musicians. Today, you can barely even do that. How are we supposed to grow musically if we can't get fed from each other's ideas, or inspired by seeing other people playing? I love going out and hearing live music. I love to see people on stage and get the spirit and see what people do.

Cohen is aware how jazz is generally treated in the U.S., especially among young listeners. It's often rejected, out of hand. But when people are exposed to it, and reality strikes, it can erase preconceptions that it's too difficult, or confusing. It's frustrating for musicians.

When Cohen encounters people, "first I ask, 'Do you like music?' Because people don't even know, sometimes, what they're listening to. Then you say, 'Do you like jazz?' They say no. They don't know why. It might be, she confesses, that they have heard jazz that isn't particularly good. "Like any music, when jazz is not good, it's really not good music. It's not something you can relate to if it's missing one of the compliments of charisma or interaction or creating music or doing something musical, then it's really not going to go anywhere. So many people, maybe they see some jazz band somewhere that is not so good and they say, 'Ahh. I don't like jazz' and that's it. It's very sad. We need to re-educate them. She relates a story of how people are misinformed, and how musicians have the power to change.

"Once I played a concert with Diva and I do a tribute to Benny Goodman and I play a clarinet solo. Three girls came up to me after the concert. They're holding hands and their eyes are shining and they said, 'Wow. That was amazing. We play clarinet and our teacher told us, you can't play jazz on clarinet,' she recalls, laughing. "I'm like, 'Well. I guess you can.' They didn't know better. But after that they knew.

Regardless of the situation, Cohen's extraordinary musicianship and her strong improvisational skills will keep her in forward motion.

"Everybody's doing what they can. I think when it comes to music, when you have the passion, it's not like you can choose not to do it. You have to do it. If you can make a living of it, then great. If you're not satisfied with the living you're making, then people choose to do also other things or only other things. It's very individual, but once you have the passion for music—if you cannot afford to do it, how very unhappy.

"Now I have two new CDs and it's a whole new journey starting, she says. "There's a lot of different things I want to do. I feel like it's time to think up the next recording already.

"We'll see. I'm not sure what will be my next thing yet. It will be fun.

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