There’s an evanescent quality to Anat Cohen’s sound. Her clarinet (she also plays the tenor and soprano saxophones) immediately evokes the celebratory swing of klezmer, but the music she plays — be it the Brazilian choro or the swampy funk of New Orleans big bands — quickly transports the listener somewhere else. She moved to New York from Israel 10 years ago, and it’s clear that behind her majestic, piping hot compositions is a more elemental ability to adapt, transform, and simply keep things moving.
"I’ve always been attracted to multicultural music," Cohen says. "It’s where the world is going." In a way, it’s where she’s already been, too. After a youth spent studying in Israel’s renowned Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, she moved to Boston in the mid-1990s to get a degree at the Berklee College of Music. That’s where she said she discovered Latin music (she recently came back from a tour in Colombia). But Cohen (whose brothers trumpeter Avishai and saxophonist Yuval are also jazz musicians) says her native country seeded her protean sense: "Israel is a mishmash of other cultures," she says. "It’s like New Orleans; it’s a meltdown of other cultures."
Speaking of New Orleans, it’s worth noting that she’ll be performing at this year’s JazzFest, one of the genre’s most highly regarded events. Cohen has already led her own band at the Village Vanguard here in Manhattan, twice, which made her the first woman and the first Israeli ever to do so. At JazzFest, she’ll be playing with the famed George Wein and the Newport All-Stars, but for her the invitation to that magical place is an honor enough. "That city, it always has music," she says. "It all originated there."
Cohen’s musical sensibility has a decidedly communal side: A few years ago she created a record label, Anzic Records, to record the wave of young Israeli jazz musicians who have made their way to New York since Cohen has. For her, in a sense, jazz is all in the family.
Favorite song at the moment: "Good Bye" by Gordon Jenkins, made famous by Benny Goodman.
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