"Hebrew is the Language that is Closest to Me"



By: ELAD BENARI  
Published: October 7th 2010
in Culture » Music

Avishai Cohen
Pic: Avishai Cohen Music

Israeli jazz bassist Avishai Cohen has been making music for over 20 years. What began at age nine with piano lessons has turned into an extensive career in jazz and singing, 11 successful albums and performances worldwide.

 

Cohen, who describes himself as “a musician who improvises”, will perform in Toronto on October 19. The performance will launch his newest album, Aurora. Speaking to Shalom Life ahead of his upcoming performance, Cohen said that his musical improvisations were what had connected him to jazz.

 

“Ever since I can remember, I had a need to express myself beyond the music that is written [on paper],” said Cohen. “This is something that is natural to me, and is what brought me to jazz music, because jazz is a form of personal expression.”

 

Cohen began to play the piano at the age of nine, but at the age of 14 changed to the bass guitar, inspired by legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius. During his army service, he played in an army band where he did not express his love and passion for jazz, but rather stuck to Israeli songs.

 

His big breakthrough came after his army service, when he decided to move to New York and study to become a jazz bassist. “I heard that New York had many young people who play jazz,” said Cohen. “There are not only clubs there, but you can also meet the greatest jazz stars [in New York].”

 

In New York, he was accepted into a music school and at the same time performed  in local clubs. “I took advantage of the fact that there were some very talented people with whom I could perform. I'm not a big fan of schools, especially music schools, it’s difficult for me. I did it so I could get a visa and then I discovered some pretty nice things. I lived in New York for 12 years.”

 

While in New York, Cohen was noticed by jazz pianist Chick Corea, who gave him a record contract. Working with Corea gave Cohen’s career a great push, and in 1998 he released his first album. He currently plays with his own group, called the Avishai Cohen Trio. About three years ago, Cohen began to incorporate singing into his repertoire. This new trend was particularly reflected in his first and only album in Hebrew, which was released in 2008 and which included songs by some famous classical Israeli poets such as Bialik.

 

“When I came back to Israel (I’ve lived in Israel for 6 years now), I began to sing in Hebrew and I realized it was a sound that is part of my music,” said Cohen. “It fits well with what I want to express emotionally. This is the language that is closest to me. Through Hebrew I also started to sing in English and Ladino, but the Hebrew disc is also a kind of tribute after years of a career mainly overseas. It's kind of something that I brought to Israel from overseas.”

 

Cohen describes the Israeli audience who comes to his performances as “wonderful and faithful”. Some of his fans have followed him since he was only an instrumentalist, but after he released the Hebrew album, new people began to come to his performances, who did not know what jazz was and discovered the genre thanks to him. “Today I have the kind of audience who did not know jazz before this album, and I also have the previous audience that goes along with whatever I do,” said Cohen.

 

He calls the jazz scene in Israel “very developed”, especially in recent years, defining what is happening in Israel as “a pretty amazing renaissance. There's much more awareness of jazz. A lot more concerts, more festivals. Lots of young people who take jazz very seriously.”

 

Related articles: (Avishai Cohen, Jazz Music, Hebrew Music)
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