Bassist, pianist, composer, bandleader
Israeli bassist, pianist, composer, and bandleader Avishai Cohen has proven himself a rising jazz star, playing with such notables as Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, and Danilo Perez. By the late 1990s, was generating acclaim for his work in Chick Corea’s New Trio and Origin sextet. “Chick makes me play things that I have never played with anybody else,” Cohen told Ken Franckling in Down Beat magazine. “He is embracing us like he was embraced by Miles Davis.”
In 1998 Cohen made his solo recording debut with Adama. Two years later he formed Avishai Cohen + the International Vamp Band, comprised of young musicians from around the world. The group blends straight-ahead jazz with an eclectic mix of musical cultures. “I just wanted to put together an ensemble where I could provide an environment for experimentation. And suddenly, I looked at my band and said to myself, ‘Wow, there are four different countries represented here,’” recalled Cohen, referring to players from Israel, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba, to Chicago Tribune writer Howard Reich. The band is featured on Cohen’s fourth album, Unity, released in 2001.
Cohen was born on April 20, 1971, in the Israeli town of Naharia, where he was exposed to a variety of musical styles. His mother Ora, an artist descended from Sephardic settlers who immigrated to Palestine from Greece and Turkey, listened to the music of Mozart, Chopin, and Bartok, while his father, Gershon, was raised in an Ashkenazi family. In addition, he learned about religious songs from his maternal grandfather. “I come from a half-Sephardic family, Jewish people who reside in Spain. A lot of the melodies I have been exposed to through my mother, and her people were influenced by Spanish and Arabic music,” Cohen revealed to Franckling. “It is like gypsy music, a mixture of a lot of stuff.”
Listening to his sister practice classical pieces on the family piano, Cohen, too, felt a strong desire to be part of music. He began creating melodies on the piano, remembering them by marking the keys with shells. Then at the age of ten he also began piano lessons. At 14, Cohen moved with his family to the United States, settling in St. Louis, Missouri. There he took up the electric bass—learning to play the instrument in less than a year—and started lessons in jazz piano. His teacher introduced him to bassists Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clark, whose music encouraged the aspiring artist. Cohen also listened to the work of legendary bassist Ray Brown and Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson.
In 1986 Cohen and his family returned to Israel, where he enrolled at the Music and Arts Academy in Jerusalem. At school Cohen took a workshop with Steve Horenhstein, an American who had connections with trumpet/flugelhorn player and distinguished educator Bill Dixon. “He got us into Charlie Parker, Monk, Min-gus, and Coltrane, who are for me the strongest sound of jazz to this day—the records had such truth in them,”
Born on April 20, 1971, in Naharia, Israel. Education: Attended the Music and Arts Academy in Jerusalem and the New School and Mannes College of Music in New York City.
Joined Chick Corea’s group, signed with Stetch/Concord label; 1997; released debut album Adama, 1998; released Devotion, 1999; Colors, 2000; Unity, 2001 (with the International Vamp Band).
Addresses: Record company—Concord Records, P.O. Box 845, Concord, CA 94522, website: http://www.concordrecords.com. Management—Future History Management, Ray Jefford, phone: (212) 865-4081, e-mail: [email protected] Publicity—Concord Records, Jo Foster, Director of Publicity, 100 N. Crescent Dr., Ste. 275, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, phone: (310) 385-4218, fax: (925) 682-3508, e-mail: [email protected] Website—Avishai Cohen Official Website: http://www.avishaicohen.com.
he recalled for a Concord Records biography. “At 16, you’re a rebel, and we felt we were in a movement.”
In addition to formal studies, the teenaged Cohen worked several nights a week as a musician, primarily in Tel Aviv, jobs at which he learned many jazz tunes. When he later played with various Israeli Army bands, he learned that the bassist gave a foundation and groove to the entire group. After completing his stint with the military, Cohen continued to play electric bass professionally, but became increasingly attracted to the upright bass. He found a private instructor, Michael Klinghoffer, who shared his affinity for jazz.
As a result of his nearly incessant practice, Cohen progressed quickly. He decided to return to the United States—he wanted to live closer to the heart of jazz. In 1992 he settled in New York, where he attended both the New School and Mannes College of Music. At the New School, he met pianist Brad Mehldau and percussionist Adam Cruz, with whom he played in a trio for a brief time.
He also played gigs with tenorist Grant Stewart and guitarist Peter Bernstein; he soon met Danilo Perez, who recognized Cohen’s interest in Latin music. At the time, Cohen was listening frequently to the music of Eddie Palmieri. Eager to learn the Latin style, he contacted bassist Andy Gonzalez for lessons then gained experience playing with a band that included pianist Ray Santiago and conguero Abie Rodriguez. Noted Cohen on the Concord Records website: “I try to keep in touch with this band all the time, because everything I learned about Latin music is from them.”
In 1997, while attending the International Association of Jazz Educators Conference in Chicago, Cohen gave one of his demo tapes to Ron Moss, manager of the renowned pianist/composer/arranger/bandleader Chick Corea. Soon thereafter, Cohen was not only a member of Corea’s group Origin, but was also recording his first solo effort, Adama, on the Sketch/Concord label, with Corea coproducing. Critics hailed the album, which blended the sounds of the Middle East with Spain, and Latin America with traditional American jazz, as one of strongest jazz debuts in recent memory.
The following year saw the release of Devotion, which also received favorable criticism, both for its mix of diverse forms and Cohen’s mastery as an instrumentalist. Cohen, wrote Paul de Barros for a Down Beat review of the bassist’s talent, “is like a bass violinist, with a warm, natural sound … and a probing sense of modal mystery that is dark and joyous.” Cohen delighted reviewers again with his third outing, the 2000 release Colors. His arrangements for this album featured Middle Eastern phrases, reggae, funk, Latin beats, and fusion. As evidence that he indeed had arrived, Bass Player magazine named Cohen as one of the 100 Most Influential Bass Players of the 20th Century.
For his next project, in 2000 Cohen assembled an ensemble he dubbed the International Vamp Band. Alongside Cohen, the sextet features Antonio Sanchez on drums and vocals; Yagil Baras on acoustic bass; Avi Lebovich on trombone, flute and vocals; Yosvany Terry on tenor and alto saxophones and chekeré; and Diego Urcola on trumpet and flugelhorn. They made their concert debut in February of 2001 at the Jazz Gallery in New York. Later that year, Stretch/Concord issued Unity, wherein the bassist presents songs containing a message of worldwide peace. He felt driven to focus on unity as he watched civil unrest escalate in his homeland. “I wanted to say what I was feeling but didn’t want to look as if we were capitalizing on such a dangerous situation in a place that has such a special meaning for me,” he explained on his official website. “I am influenced in my writing by the sounds and ideas of people that I play with, and in this case, peace and unity are a few of my desires at this time.”
Adama, Stretch, 1998.
Devotion, Stretch, 1999.
Colors, Stretch, 2000.
(With the International Vamp Band) Unity, Stretch, 2001.
(With Chick Corea and Origin) Live at the Blue Note, Stretch, 1997.
(With Nnenna Freelon) Maiden Voyage, Concord Jazz, 1998.
(With Chick Corea and Origin) Change, Stretch, 1999.
(Various artists) Jam Miami, Concord Picante, 2000.
(Tim Garland) Made by Walking, Stretch, 2000.
(Chick Corea) Originations, Stretch, 2000.
(Steve Davis) Portrait in Sound, Stretch, 2000.
(Jason Linder—the Ensemble) Premonition, Stretch, 2000.
(The Chick Corea New Trio) Past Present & Futures, Stretch, 2001.
Billboard, April 10, 1999.
Boston Globe, August 6, 1999; August 9, 1999; December 22, 2000; November 15, 2001; December 28, 2002.
Chicago Tribune, January 13, 2002.
Down Beat, October 1998; June 1999; August 1999; December 2000; August 2001; December 2001.
Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1997; April 5, 1998; August 6, 1998; April 4, 1999; April 26, 1999.
New York Times, May 29, 1999.
Philadelphia City Paper, April 22-29, 1999.
Washington Post, September 23, 1999; November 10, 2000; September 7, 2001; May 16, 2002.
“Avishai Cohen and the International Vamp Band Live at Cheney Hall,” JazzReview.com, http://www.jazzreview.com (January 7, 2003).
“Avishai Cohen & the International Vamp Band: Unity,” Cosmik Debris, http://www.cosmik.com (January 7, 2003).
“Avishai Cohen: Biography,” Concord Records, http://www.concordrecords.com (January 7, 2003).
“Avishai Cohen: Colors,” 52nd Street Jazz, http://www.52ndstreet.com (January 7, 2003).
“Avishai Cohen: Devotion,” Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com (January 7, 2003).
“Aviashai Cohen: Manual Labor,” Bass Player Online, http://www.bassplayer.com (January 7, 2003).
Avishai Cohen Official Website, http://www.avishaicohen.com (January 7, 2003).
“Colors Album Review,” Jazziz, http://www.jazziz.com (January 7, 2003).
“A Fireside Chat with Avishai Cohen,” Jazz Weekly, http://www.jazzweekly.com (January 7, 2003).
“Israeli Bassist Navigating New Dimensions to Play Here,” Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, http://www.jewishsf.com January 13, 2002.
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