Internationally, the name Avishai Cohen is synonymous with Israeli jazz.
Among the young Israelis who started to migrate to New York City in the 1990s to get into the jazz scene there, Cohen made an Israeli jazz fairy tale come true when he jived with fabled jazz pianist Chick Corea.
Cohen became a member of Corea’s sextet, Origin, and when it morphed into The Chick Corea New Trio, Cohen continued to be its bassist.
Today, Cohen has already released 21 albums. He performs internationally with his own band, the Avishai Cohen Trio, and collaborates with major Israeli and international artists.
ISRAEL21c asked him 10 questions and asked for his three top wishes.
What does jazz mean to you?
I come from the jazz tradition, which means that I am a free spirit. I like to be free, and I like to express myself. I have a tendency to go my own way, learning alone and developing myself. I have the need to improvise and go outside the box, and that’s why I am into jazz.
Jazz embraces most idioms, more than any other genre, and it has gone in many directions where it didn’t used to be, which is good. It is funny: there is a jazz tradition but jazz tradition is not to stay in the tradition, so it conflicts with itself, which is very interesting.
What have Israelis brought to jazz?
The jazz scene in Israel has gotten a lot larger over recent years. Because of myself and a lot of other musicians, there is a much greater awareness of it all.
Israel has always been influenced by a great mix of cultures — Moroccan, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Spanish, Eastern European nations — and also by the descendants of Jewish people from many other places.
These influences exist in the music, the language and in the good food, and everyone absorbs these things in different ways, which allows for a lot of creativity.
What are the elements in your music?
There is no doubt a strong element of jazz in my music but I have opened myself up to so many different sounds from a young age: Afro-Caribbean rhythms, Sephardic sounds, Israeli folk songs, to name a few. Although I am [also] very influenced by classical music, pop music and folklore on many different levels, something created by cultures is such a strong inspiration for me as an individual.
Instrumental jazz or jazz song?
I began by performing jazz instrumental music, but throughout the development of my career I started to relate to songs more and more, and now they are both passions of mine: instrumental music and songs.
Beginning with “Adama” in 1998, you have so far released 21 albums. Do you have a new album on the horizon?
I’ll share some news with you. I have recorded new music, called “Iroko,” which will be officially released worldwide on May 5 on Believe. The project is a long-time dream. It is inspired by and derived from jazz tradition and rooted in Afro-Caribbean music. [Ed. note: Iroko, a tropical African hardwood, is used to make Afro-Cuban drums.] Between February and May, before the album drops, we will release a few singles.
What is special about “Iroko”?
I have assembled an all-star band to execute this amazing project. Alongside me, performing live onstage, are some of the very first musicians I performed with in New York City, within the small club scene downtown, back in the early 1990s.
Abraham Rodriguez Jr., a great and unique singer, conguero [conga drummer] and master of Afro-Caribbean music in its full spectrum, joins me and is central to the recording of “Iroko.”
When is the first “Iroko” concert?
The first live concert is in Paris, at Le Chatelet, with the Iroko Show Banda performing [the world premier]. After that, the Avishai Cohen Trio will go to New York to perform for a week in April at the Blue Note. We are planning to add more tour dates, and as soon as we have more shows confirmed they will appear on my official website.
What other plans do you have for 2023?
Being on the road again, touring and enjoying performing and seeing many fans out there! I will continue with my trio shows, of course, with my musical partners Guy Moskovich on piano and Roni Kaspi on drums.
In February I will be heading to Japan, where I will perform with my trio at Blue Note Tokyo. I will also perform a duet with Japanese pianist and composer Makoto Ozone.
Can you tell us about the duet with Makoto Ozone?
The “Amity” duet is inspired by friendship, peace, harmony and mutual understanding. I’m very excited about teaming up with Makoto. He has a rare kind of command on piano, mastering both classical and jazz abilities, which to me is the perfect combination. We are also scheduling more live shows worldwide later in 2023/24.
Do you have shows planned in Israel this year?
On January 24, I joined forces with Micha Sheetrit, a musician I have admired for many years. We have been collaborating on some new music over the last few years and now we are performing a series of concerts in Israel throughout the year and beyond. More news on this very soon.
Finally, in the tradition of Pannonica de Koenigswater’s book, Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats, if you could have three wishes, what would they be?
1. On a personal level, to enjoy life spending time with my family and especially with my three young kids.
2. Peace in the world.
3. That we take good care of Mother Nature. I want my kids to grow up in a safe, healthy and sustainable world.
Those are my three wishes and I wish all my fans a happy 2023!