Her partners include the great pianist Benny Green, who appears on her vibrant tribute album to Goodman, "Clarinet Work: Live at the Village Vanguard" (Anzic Records). Barak Mori is on bass, Obed Calvaire on drums.
A rousing tenor saxophonist, diverse composer and a genre-crossing bandleader with a taste for world music (particularly Brazil's urban style called choro), Cohen has been hailed by American critics as an irrepressibly bold, new voice for jazz in the 21st century.
Critical applause has been loudest for her technically superb, passionate, fluent playing on clarinet.
The clarinet in recent years has been declining as a primary jazz instrument.
That plus the fact that Cohen is a woman and hails from a small nation thousands of miles away from New York City, the epicenter of the male-dominated jazz universe, make her emergence on the American scene even more remarkable.
Cohen came to the States in 1996 as a scholarship student at Boston's Berklee College of Music. She credits her success in to the rigorous and empathetic teachers she had in Israel, where she began studying clarinet at 12.
Her loving, supportive parents backed not only her musical aspirations but also those of her two horn-playing brothers, Avishai and Yuval.
Younger brother Avishai is now a noted trumpeter on the New York scene (no relation to another Israeli jazz notable, bassist Avishai Cohen). Older brother Yuval, a hot tenor saxophonist, was the first of the Cohen clan to go to Berklee in search of musical enlightenment.
Billed as The Three Cohens, the tightly-knit siblings have collaborated on a fine recording called "Braids" on Anzic Records, a premium indie label co-owned and founded by Anat.
"My parents never said to me, 'Why don't you go and get a real profession?' And that really helped," Anat Cohen says by phone from her New York apartment, just back from a summer vacation with her family back home in Tel Aviv.
"A little bit of talent is probably necessary, but our parents' dedication was vital, as were the really good teachers in Israel who passed on a sense of discipline and a genuine passion to us that inspired us to want to make jazz our dream and go for it.
"Influences at home, including classical music, were not all specifically jazz, but the family radio was always on. … So there was always some connection to American culture, to American music.
"My father had lived in the States in the 1960s for a while and came to love American Songbook material. Even today, he sometimes recognizes singers that I never even heard of, which is beautiful and inspiring," she says.
When Anat was 16, she began majoring in jazz at the prestigious Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts. After graduation, she served in the military from 1993-1995, playing tenor saxophone in the Israeli Air Force Band.
In one of the turning points in her life, the teenaged Cohen auditioned for Berklee College in Tel Aviv (the college sends auditioning reps around the world), won a scholarship and moved to Boston, where she discovered world music and many kindred, jazz-obsessed souls.
"Oh, my God! Boston was incredible. I had some of the best experiences of my life there at Berklee because I met a bunch of other people who were at the exact same stage in life and interest as me. There were American and international students all wrapped up in the Berklee environment, where you basically did nothing but music 24/7," she says.
After Berklee came her next giant step, the Big Apple rite of passage. It marked the beginning of her romance with New York City, a love second only to her hometown of Tel Aviv.
"When I moved to New York City, there were a lot of people already there that I knew from Berklee. With jazz, it's almost like you belong to some kind of additional family, a connection with people because they're all coming from the same place," she says.
For Cohen, it initially meant running faster and faster until she had to slow down, reflect, sort things out and find her own voice and personal definition of what music is.
"When I got to New York, I was playing choro music and modern music and would run around to all the clubs, as much as I could, playing every kind of genre at three or four places a night. After a while, I'd say to myself, 'I want to do this kind of music. No, I want to do that kind. Or maybe this kind.' I got so overwhelmed, I was almost breathless.
"Finally, I said to myself, 'Hold on! Music is music, no matter how it's categorized.' I realized I might call something jazz, for example, but people from Brazil might call the same thing instrumental Brazilian music.
"My philosophy is simply that music is music, regardless of category. So I let other people define what it is, how it's categorized or what it's called.
"For me, whatever music feels good is where I'm going to find myself."
Anat Cohen leads her quartet Sunday at 5:15 p.m. at the Litchfield Jazz Festival at the Kent School, One Macedonia Road (Route 341), Kent. The festival opens with the Dave Brubeck Quartet Friday night and closes with Béla Fleck Sunday night. Tickets and schedule: http://www.litchfieldjazzfest.com or 860-361-6285.
Learn more about Anat Cohen on her profile page here.
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