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Avishai Cohen: As Is

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I received everything that I could ever want to get from a musician -- to play good music.
avishai cohen Avishai Cohen is the sound of a new generation of bass prodigies, and his talent is a force to be reckoned with in the world of jazz. The New Yorker has affirmed him to be "one of the most gifted bassists of his generation who is finding his own voice as a composer. His vision knows no boundaries and is ever-expanding exponentially. Down Beat Magazine has identified him as "a musician who is a jazz visionary of global proportions. He has been voted as one of the greatest bass players of the 20th century and is highly respected among his peers. Chick Corea has labeled him as genius for his work.

His sound is pure and innovative; his ensemble continually exudes inspired improvisational ingenuity, as evidenced by his numerous live performances and recordings. His compositions speak to the heart of his western and eastern influences; and as Jazziz has declared of Cohen: "There is no way to reduce bassist Avishai Cohen's music into tidy categories. Seamlessly blending Middle Eastern, folk, funk, fusion, and straight-ahead jazz often on the same song, Cohen has fashioned a singular vision, and it's a joy to experience. One such experience was documented on film by way of his CD/DVD release, As Is (Razdaz Records, 2007). Although currently on tour, Katrina-Kasey Wheeler caught up with Avishai Cohen during one of his free moments.

All About Jazz: How did you become interested in the bass, since you started off as a pianist?

Avishai Cohen: In my teens, I started off listening to a lot of English rock and 70's rock, and that kind of awoke a space within me. I started thinking that playing the electric bass would be cool. I still have no idea why I am playing the bass. I just know that at that point in my life it was something that I wanted to try.

AAJ: I would say that it is definitely a higher calling. Who then was the biggest influence on you back then?

AC: Jaco Pastorius.

AAJ: What have you discovered from his legacy?

AC: I have learned many things, but more important than anything else, I have inherited—or better said, soaked—an incredible talent from a spiritual person that created some of the most passionate and interesting music of the century. I received everything that I could ever want to get from a musician—to play good music.

AAJ: Is there much of a jazz scene in Israel? How does it compare to that of the United States? Obviously it would be on a smaller scale.

AC: Jazz is popular for what it is. It used to be much less popular; not as many people knew about it, and there weren't as many fans. There is definitely a thing going on, but it is still very small. I can tell you, it is a place that has one of the highest percentages of incredibly talented musicians that I have ever known, for whatever reason.

AAJ: I can imagine it certainly must be. So then, likewise, does jazz education also differ in Israel when compared to a country like the United States? Are there different avenues in regard to jazz education?

AC: In jazz, the best thing is always to go and hear the best players. There is a little more of that than there used to be, but in terms of studying, there is a school that has good teachers. Of course being that it is Israel everything is smaller, but there are still more opportunities to pursue music than there were twenty years ago. There have been huge developments.

AAJ: That is wonderful to hear, comparatively speaking, since in the United States there are continually so many budget cuts, and music programs are always the first to be cut. Speaking of wonderful opportunities, you were a founding member of Chick Corea's sextet, Origin. What have you taken away from that experience? What is the greatest thing that you learned through it?

AC: I think just learning how to be a bandleader.

AAJ: Chick Corea has labeled you as a genius. How does it feel to have a luminary refer to you as such?

AC: It is definitely very flattering. I take it as a big compliment and don't try to understand it too much. I see it as gesture from Chick which I appreciate very much. I try not to be fixated on it.

AAJ: You have been labeled by so many entities as one of the greatest bass players of the twentieth century. Bass Player magazine labeled you one of the 100 most influential bass players of the twentieth century.

AC: It is definitely a compliment.

AAJ: It certainly must be. You are considered one of the greatest among your peers. You have said that you see music as something spiritual. Would you elaborate on that?

AC: Yes. I think that music in general is something that has a very high nature. It goes beyond the artist or the people listening to it. It belongs to the environment, and if we are lucky we get a lot of it and it transforms through us and it goes back, almost like a cycle. That is the spiritual side. Music is a very magical thing.

AAJ: Yes, it is both spiritual and personal. When you record your material, how much of it is mapped out, so to speak, versus improvised?

AC: The nature of what I do, this art, always has somewhat of a combination between improvised and written music. I'm a very composed type of person. I compose pieces that then go into an open-or-not section. I try to keep a balance between improvisation and written music. The band is always free to express their emotions.

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