Avishai Cohen: Family Bonds and Music from the Heart

Urszula Orczyk By

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Avishai Cohen is a talented trumpeter, composer, band leader, co-leader and active sideman featured on over 50 records to date. Voted a Rising Star in the 2012 DownBeat Critics Poll, Cohen is also a musician with an individual sound, combining the best of traditional jazz with a modern compositional style. As a player, he demonstrates flexibility, soulfulness, sensitivity and extravaganza.

Cohen has performed music since the age of 10, gaining experience with jazz, rock and pop groups while growing up in Tel Aviv. He later moved to the United States to attend the Berklee College of Music.

He has toured and recorded with, among others, the SFJAZZ Collective, Third World Love, Lemon Juice Quartet, Jason Lindner Big Band, Omer Avital, and Keren Ann. He also plays with his trio Triveni and the 3 Cohens Sextet co-led by his sister, clarinetist-saxophonist Anat, and brother, soprano saxophonist Yuval. The Sextet includes Yonathan Avishai on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Jonathan Blake on drums.

During this brief but revealing interview at the Enter Music Festival, Cohen discussed his family band, their latest release Tightrope, and the state of modern jazz.

All About Jazz: Do you consider your family to be your optimal playing partners?

Avishai Cohen: It's hard to compare... as we go through life we meet many people, and with some of them we develop a very good relationship. With music, a lot of things are just different so it's hard to compare one experience to another and declare what's the best. There's definitely something very special in what we have that can not be achieved with any other band—certain understanding, certain relationships and a certain love that exists only in this band. This band cannot be replaced. Yes, you can play with a different bassist, drummer or pianist, and we love the people who are here with us today, but I can not substitute Anat for a different player. We can only work in this configuration. To answer your question more directly—it's one of my favorite situations to play in.

AAJ: Do you ever disagree or argue with your siblings regarding the music or it's rather symbiotic co-existence?

AC: Well, first of all, it's not necessarily an easy process in any band. A band is like a family or like a relationship. Even without having your siblings in a band, just having a band is not an easy thing. Just like there is no family that never fights, a band that doesn't fight doesn't exist. So we fight, of course, but we don't have severe fights, like (sometimes) we don't talk for a while. We argue like any normal family. We have disagreements but we work them out pretty well, I think. Actually, we don't take things too personally. We are respectful of each other, and very caring and loving with each other. I think one of the things that makes it easier is that we aren't jealous. We're not fighting over the spotlight, so fights never come from that space like, "Hey, you played more solos than me, or we play more of your tunes," you know, this never happens. The ego fights don't exist in this band. We have a lot of love for each other and we want the others to shine and be at their best, so that helps. We are all very connected. Siblings that grow up together, doing the same thing ... I've seen other situations, friends of mine who are the only musicians in their families, and it's not an easy situation for them. People don't understand them—what it means to be a musician, how you live your life, what your goals are, how you exist, what you think about as a musician. You know, we are a little bit like outsiders. Growing up with siblings who do the same things and understand your goals, understand what you try to do in your career, support you, advise you, are there for you and sometimes, in this case, do it with you, it's amazing.

AAJ: How important a part do your roots and heritage play in your music?

AC: First of all, everything is important. Everything you go through in life is important. That doesn't mean it must be. If I was coming from somewhere else, I would be a different person, so it is important in the sense of who we are. Growing up in a certain place, with certain holidays, customs, mentality, that type of existence affects your life. You hear certain songs on the radio that affect you, so in the big picture—yes, it matters a lot, it makes you who you are. It's another piece in the puzzle. On the other hand, in this specific band there's much more jazz history. The jazz tradition is way more audible than our Israeli roots. Sometimes it's mixed with other flavors, but swing is the main core and we bring that to the music.

AAJ: Your music is very energetic, sometimes edgy with swing and lyricism. How much of that is inspired from music you've grown up on?

AC: I think the last thing you've mentioned, the lyricism, is deep inside the three of us. The need for strong melodies, lyrical elements in music is important to us. Why? I don't know, maybe because we are from there. I don't know. I know that Israeli melodies have that element and yes, I guess I would say that's probably the effect. I'm not sure exactly how it works.


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