Cornell Concert Series offers a musical treat on Friday as Anat Cohen, an Israeli jazz musician who explores a broad array of musical styles, plays Bailey Hall at 8 p.m. with her quartet. Cohen’s influences range from classical to world music styles. She moved to New York City in 1999 and plays in many musical contexts from small groups to big bands. During a recent conversation she discussed her music from her home in New York City.
Tompkins Weekly: You grew up in Israel. What’s the jazz scene like there?
Anat Cohen: I think like anywhere in the world, the percentage of the jazz scene inside the music scene is pretty small. But I think there are a few dedicated musicians that pass their passion to some students. There are some very dedicated jazz fans, like any other place in the world. They love the music and they follow and support it. It’s been really growing. It’s been really growing in the last fifteen years significantly. It has been producing some quite good musicians. Some incredible talent is coming out of there. I’m glad to be part of it.
TW: You come from a musical family. How did you start playing saxophone and clarinet?
AC: I went to conservatory and started playing clarinet. I was always playing with my brothers. They got involved in jazz before I did, because I was in the more classical world. But once I joined the conservatory big band I picked up the tenor saxophone, specifically to play in the big band. We’ve always been in similar bands, with my family, with my brothers. That was our social lives, our musical lives.
It was all intertwined. It’s always been a major part of our lives.
TW: Who do you count as your influences?
AC: Beside my brothers? I think it came in different periods. When I was still only playing clarinet, it was first classically oriented. As far as jazz, I think before I really listened to any saxophone player I checked out Benny Goodman on the clarinet. When I picked up the tenor saxophone, Dexter [Gordon] and Sonny [Rollins] were the first love for the tenor saxophone for the powerful sound. But I think it’s hard to say, because there are so many great saxophone players. Different sounds at different times speak to you. Beside the time when I wanted to play like Coltrane, when I got into Berklee [College of Music] . . . besides that period, at every given time there was someone who was hanging around in musical spirit.
TW: There still seems to be a shortage of female jazz instrumentalists. Why do you think that is?
AC: There’s less and less of a shortage. I go out and it’s becoming more of a norm to see a woman playing in a band beside a bunch of guys—not featured as some pretty girl who is just dancing on the side or singing background vocals. There are cats out there playing, younger musicians, who have been less a part of the history of the business that has basically been male dominated. It’s not an easy lifestyle. It’s pretty hard to be an expressive musician, and to play jazz you have to show all spectrum of emotions. And not every person is comfortable doing it. You’ve got to show your feminine side and your masculine side, when the music asks for it. It’s challenging.
And being on the road, being a travelling musician. The role of a woman in a family. If a woman wants to have a family? It’s not that men can’t stay home and take care of the kids. But it really is can a woman tear herself apart from her kids? It takes a very specific personality to do those things, and it’s not for everybody. I would think all those reasons, and regardless of what I said, there are more and more women that are out there playing their butts off and sounding great and giving a good reputation instrumentally, regardless of gender.
TW: Can you tell us about the quartet you’ll be playing with at
AC: I have a fantastic guitar player, Gilad Hekselman, from Israel. I’ve been playing with him for the last few years. I also have the great bassist Chico Martin. He’s originally from Iowa, but based in New York. Adam Cruz is on drums, which is fantastic. I haven’t played with Adam a lot, but I’ve heard him a lot. I really look forward to playing with these guys.