Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen fell in love with jazz as a child growing up in Tel Aviv, Israel. Cohen’s passion for jazz brought her to the United States during the late ‘90s to study music at Boston’s Berklee College. But Cohen’s focus shifted at Berklee, as she befriended a group of Brazilian students that introduced her to the musical traditions of their homeland.
Today Cohen’s artistic identity is tied closely to Brazilian music. Cohen has recorded in a variety Brazilian genres, but lately her focus has been on choro – an improvised form that developed in Rio de Janeiro during the late 1800s.
And it’s choro music that brings Cohen to Indy Jazz Fest. She’ll be performing with Trio Brasileiro at The Cabaret on Sunday, September 16. Cohen has recorded two albums with Trio Brasileiro, including the Grammy-nominated Rosa Dos Ventos in 2017.
Read on to learn more about Cohen’s passion for Brazilian music, and head to IndyJazzFest.net to grab a ticket.
Kyle Long: You’ve worked extensively in the choro style. In addition to the two albums you’ve released with Trio Brasileiro, you also recorded a pair of albums with The Choro Ensemble.
What was it about choro music that grabbed you?
Anat Cohen: First of all, I love the sound of it. I love the combination of happy and uplifting sounds with the lamenting elements, which is a lot like jazz.
When I first encountered choro, I was playing saxophone. When I was playing jazz I couldn’t quite find myself on the clarinet. But then I found this genre of music called choro where the clarinet fit so perfectly. It was very exciting for me to go back to playing the clarinet, and to be playing Brazilian music. I fell in love with Brazilian music before I started playing choro.
So I was happy to be able to combine my love for clarinet, my love for Brazilian music, and my love for jazz. For me, choro is a perfect amalgamation of jazz and classical music with Brazilian rhythms.
Kyle Long: Choro is often described in shorthand as a Brazilian version of early North American jazz forms. I’m curious if you approach playing choro music in the same way you approach playing straight-ahead jazz?
Anat Cohen: No, not at all. We use that description to give people a sense of what the music is like. Bot for me, that’s not really what it is.
Choro is polyphonic music, and it has multiple melodic lines. There’s a connection there with some of the music from New Orleans. If you listen to the Louis Armstrong All-Stars there are various melodies happening at the same time, and they are all almost equally important. I love the fact that you can accompany with a melodic line, for me as a horn player it’s a blessing. Obviously I cannot play chords on the clarinet.
Kyle Long: You alluded to this earlier, your work in choro music is just one facet of a deeper appreciation for Brazilian Music. In the past you’ve recorded music from great Brazilian MPB songwriters like Chico Buarque and Milton Nascimento. You also spent time performing and recording with the great Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista.
How did Brazilian music first enter your life?
Anat Cohen: I found out much later that Brazilian music entered my life while I was growing up in Israel. There was a lot of Brazilian music brought into Israel and performed with Hebrew lyrics. In my ignorance I grew up thinking it was Israeli music. [laughs]
I met Brazilian music students while I was attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. The music for me was always inseparable from the people, the culture, the love of life, the celebration of life, and the language, which I now speak. It’s been an ongoing affair since I encountered Brazilian students who were studying alongside me at Berklee College of Music.
I was fascinated by how similar Brazilian people are to Israelis, in their expression, and in the physicality and warmth shared when people are together. I felt very much at home with Brazilian people right from the start. It was a natural connection to explore the music during my visits to Brazil. I keep discovering more. Brazil is a big country, and there’s so much music to explore.
Kyle Long: Anything you want to share about your upcoming appearance at Indy Jazz Fest with Trio Brasileiro?
Anat Cohen: We all come from the tradition of jazz, but there’s a lot of influences in this group. It’s amazing that we can get such a big sound with just a guitar, mandolin, pandeiro, and a clarinet. Dudu Maia, Douglas Lora, and Alexandre Lora are incredible musicians.
Kyle Long: Thanks for taking time to speak with me today. I’m a huge fan of Brazilian music. We don’t get to hear a lot of it in Indiana, so I’m excited for your upcoming show.
Anat Cohen: Well, I’m very happy that you like Brazilian music, and I can’t wait to come play in Indianapolis with these guys.
Anat Cohen interpreting a Flying Lotus composition: