Avishai Cohen: Trumpet Trio Makes Strong Mark
Cohen is part of the musical family from Israel that has become well known in the jazz world in recent years. His older sister, Anat Cohen, is renowned for her prowess on the clarinet and her strong presence on tenor sax. His older brother, Yuval Cohen, is an outstanding saxophonist who is also raising eyebrows. As the SFJAZZ Collective tour wound down, Avishai said the family group, the 3 Cohens, is a project that has grown organically over time and will get very active in the coming months.
"The 3 Cohens, we're putting a lot of focus on it this year," says the trumpeter. "We played Brazil. And Canada. We had a European tour in January. We played Portland." The siblings also played in New York and Boston in April and will be recording again soon, as well as touring in Australia in June. "The reaction we're getting this year is absolutely fantastic and exciting. It's so nice to have that project. To have this element. It's a unique situation I'm getting to appreciate more and more, as my life goes on. A tour with my brother and my sister. We stay on stage, we play, have fun, joke around and get paid for it," he says, laughing fondly. "Doing what we love doing."
The youngest of the Cohens started playing trumpet at eight, in Tel Aviv. He was exposed to jazz at home, as brother Yuval practiced along with Charlie Parker records and other albums. At age 10, he got a chance to play with a big band that was part of the Rimon School in Israel, when it was short one trumpet player. The players were between the ages of 15 and 18, but the talented horn player was admitted.
"So I started playing in a big band," he recalls. "They said, 'Ok, in this tune you can play a solo next week.'" Avishai was happy, but unsure. He consulted with Yuval, who wrote out two choruses of a solo for his younger brother to play. He pulled it off. "Everybody said, 'That sounds great. That's killing.'" The sax section was then rehearsed and they had to run the tune down again. Cohen laughs recollecting, "'Wait. What do you mean do it again? I just played it. I can't do it again.' That was the beginning of my life as an improviser, I guess. That was the moment where it started. You have to learn more and more. I'm still learning. You learn every day."
Cohen's trumpet influences in addition to Miles include Art Farmer, Don Cherry, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Thad Jones and Clifford Brown, though he's quick to note that there are many more names on that list. He was listening to music and learning as he toured the world with the Young Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. He was involved in studio sessions of all types in Israeljazz, rock, pop, television projectsbut he knew he had to come to the United States to follow up on those influences and grow more as a musician. He received a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
At Berklee, Cohen most benefited from meeting other musicians and interacting in the many jam sessions happening there. He already had a strong academic music background. "I studied all that stuff before. It was nice to be there. From a few amazing teachers I had, I did learn a lot," he says, but "I was young. I was kind of eager to get to New York."
He had been visiting New York City while in college, so he knew what to expect when he left Berklee. The reality of the large city and the music business in general was not a surprise. "When you're younger, you say you're going to come to New York and become a jazz star. The older you get, you realize there's no such thing. It's one experience after the other. You're just trying to stay true to yourself. Every day I'm asking myself, 'What is it that I want from music?' Sometimes, 'What is it that music wants from me?' The more I think about it, the less I know. Because you have preconceived ideas. 'I need to get a better record deal.' You get a little bit stuck in the old school thinking. Get the albums out there. Sell CDs. Then it's 2011. What CDs? Who is going to buy CDs? Who am I putting this album for? It exists. People still buy it, but the reality right now calls for a different type of thinking."
Nonetheless, Cohen met with success that has been steadily building. In1997 he placed third in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute Trumpet Competition. In 2003, his first recording as a leader came out, The Trumpet Player (Fresh Sound/New Talent). It's a continuing journey. Cohen is cognizant of that and steadily makes strides.
"You keep learning every day. I go see Roy Hargrove and I get inspired. The younger cats today are doing great things. Roy. Nicholas Payton, Terell Stafford, Sean Jones, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mike Rodriguez."