Anat Cohen: From Israel With Swing
By Mark Keresman
Quickly: How many female jazz instrumentalists can you name? Not singers, of which there are aplenty, but ace players of instruments of the female gender? There are more prominent ones on the scene than there were, say, 30 years ago--composer/bandleaders Carla Bley and Maria Schneider, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, to name but a few. But what of saxophonists, and even the (formerly) hard-luck cousin of the sax, the clarinet?
The answer, from Israel with swing: clarinetist and tenor/soprano saxophonist Anat Cohen.
A New York City resident since 1999, Anat Cohen was born 1975 in Tel Aviv, Israel into a musical family--brothers Yuval is a saxophonist and Avishai, a trumpeter. (The latter is not to be confused with the same-named bassist.) Taking to jazz, Cohen went to study at the fabled "jazz college of musical knowledge" Berklee in Boston in 1996. As with many jazz performers, after college that Big Apple beckoned--says Ms. Cohen, "There are a lot of Israeli musicians in New York because you want to grow and go onstage and eventually you have to get out of Israel to do that because there aren't enough places to play."
Ms. Cohen found many places to play--NYC's good like that. But more importantly, she found varied contexts to play within, such as the all-woman big band DIVA; Duduka da Fonseka's Samba Jazz Quintet, David Ostwald's Gully Low Band, dedicated to jazz styles of the 1920s and '30s, and the Choro Ensemble, devoted to the traditional choro music of Brazil. Further, Cohen has played with trad-oriented jazz swingsters Ruby Braff and Flip Philips and Brazilian trés avant percussionist Cyro Baptista. Cohen is of the newer generations of jazz musicians that have no truck with the "tradition" of jazz snobbery, in which virtually every genre of music that is not jazz (with the possible exceptions of classical music and Broadway show tunes) is looked upon with withering scorn, if looked upon at all. As with such swells as Chris Speed and Joel Harrison, the musics of George Harrison and North Africa are just as valid--and inspirational--as those of John Coltrane and Duke Ellington.