Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen is must-see Jazz Festival artist

Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen

By Marvin Glassman, Special To The Jewish Light

Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen is on top of the music world. She has been voted as clarinetist of the year for six consecutive years (2007-12) by both the jazz music writers association and Downbeat Magazine, a popular magazine for jazz fans. Cohen has been compared to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, both whom are regarded as the greatest clarinetists in history.

Cohen will be performing in concert on April 18 for two shows with drummer Matt Wilson at Jazz At The Bistro as part of the 2013 St. Louis Jazz Festival.

“Being clarinetist of the year it is an honor that I will never take for granted and I appreciate all the support from the jazz music critics and my fans. Lots of people associate the clarinet as exclusively for folk music and klezmer music, but the clarinet is a prime musical instrument in jazz as well,” said the 36-year-old Cohen in a phone interview.

In her upcoming St. Louis shows with Wilson, Cohen will be playing music from her latest of her six CDs titled “Claroscuro,” featuring 11 songs ranging in styles from New Orleans to Brazilian to New York City jazz. Released last October, “Claroscuro” has been praised by jazz writers as showcasing Cohen’s innovative jazz arrangements on both the clarinet and the saxophone.

“I enjoy playing different styles of jazz. I pay tribute to Artie Shaw in ‘La Vie En Rose’ and feature New Orleans jazz in ‘And The World Weeps’ on ‘Claroscuro,” she said.

Teaming with Wilson, Cohen promises an evening of innovative music that to some extent comes from the instinct of being a jazz musician.

“Some of the best jazz comes from playing an arrangement that you create onstage,” she explained. “Matt, like me, can be playful and instinctive, so anything can happen when the audience sees us perform.”

Cohen is not the only one in her family to have become an acclaimed musician. She often joins brothers Avishai and Yuval on tour in concert, calling themselves “The Three Cohens.”

The Cohens all excelled as jazz musicians, growing up in Israel. The trio has strong roots as well in Boston, studying music at the Berklee College Of Music.

Avishai Cohen, the youngest of the trio, plays the trumpet and elder brother Yuval plays the soprano saxophone.

“We all had talent and were influenced by the jazz recordings that we heard from our father in the house,” said Anat Cohen. “I took to jazz when Avishai played the trumpet. But our skills became honed when Berklee did recruiting in Israel for all of us to get music scholarships. First, they wanted Yuval, then me and then Avishai.” As “The Three Cohens,” Anat and her brothers recorded the CD “Family”.

However, Anat is the most acclaimed of the Cohen siblings, and is astute as both an artist and a music entrepreneur.

She has released her six CDs on her Anzic Records label, including the highly acclaimed “Clarinetwork” (2010), a salute to the famed clarinetist Benny Goodman on his centennial.

Cohen studied classical music at age 12, but switched to jazz in high school, playing for the Jaffa Conservatory Dixieland Band. Prior to enrolling at Berklee, she served in the Israeli military, playing music in the Israeli Armed Forces Band.

Upon graduating from Berkee in 1998, Cohen honed her skills by developing her jazz in the genres in Afro- Cuban, Argentine tango, Brazilian and klezmer, among other world music genres.

“Oddly enough, most of us think of klezmer as Jewish music, but the minor sound in the clarinet is found in other cultures as well. The great thing about playing music is that I think of myself as an international musician with no borders,” she said.

Although she has lived in New York for the past 20 years, Cohen is considered as an ambassador of music for Israel.