Before & After: Anat Cohen

This B&A was recorded May 14-15, 2009. It first appeared that same year in JazzTimes.


Since graduating from the Berklee College of Music, clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen has kept a full calendar leading her own groups, working in various jazz, Latin and Brazilian bands, and co-owning a label, Anzic Records. For a spring concert date, the young Israeli-born veteran gathered her 17-piece big band in New York, rented a bus for the 4-hour drive to Washington and drove straight to the Kennedy Center for sound check. With no time to rest or relax after, we met in her hotel lobby for this session. Despite a steady stream of sidemen distractions, her concentration was focused and she was visibly moved by several selections, especially the Eddie Daniels-Roger Kellaway piece. Cohen felt bad that we didn’t get to finish, so she insisted on meeting early the next morning to conclude before returning to New York. In addition to her busy touring and performance schedule, Cohen’s record label Anzic has just released its 18th title. Her latest release as leader is Notes From The Village.

1 Ken Peplowski

“You Do Something To Me” (from Mr. Gentle & Mr. Cool, Concord). Peplowski, clarinet; Hank Jones, piano; Frank Tate, bass; Alan Dawson, drums. Recorded in 1990.

Before: Woo! What a great technique, swinging. I like the fire in the playing, the drive. It’s straight ahead, someone who comes from the Benny Goodman tradition, but it’s more modern. The time is very on top, a percussive kind of playing. All the little trills, the swing ornaments are there. He or she is really interacting with the drummer. I like it, it’s a nice, round sound.

After: Kenny is one of the reasons why I returned to playing clarinet. I got to hear him a lot playing live. He has a beautiful tone and great control over the instrument and he really swings. He’s a witty, funny man and you hear humor in his playing. I really like this.

2. Nilson Matta

“Day and Night” (from Walking With My Bass, Blue Toucan). Matta, bass; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond, flute; Cyro Baptista, percussion. Recorded in 2006.

Before: It’s Brazilian. Nice partido-alto rhythm. Night and Day? Wow. Nice groove on the bass. The bass hypnotizes me; it’s moving, like an elastic pole moving from side to side. And I like those quarter notes that you can bite into. It’s a great arrangement–airy and spacious. I’m loving it. I don’t know if it’s Brazilian or American-Brazilian. Sounds like a combination, in between steady rhythm and broken. It’s very special. The two tenors who sound like that are Stan Getz and Harry Allen, but the rhythms were different than what Stan Getz would play.

After: It’s Nilson. I should really know this CD. I’m sorry, Nilson. It’s beautiful. And Cyro always plays the traditional rhythms that groove, but he also adds other sounds giving it a different, exotic flavor. Is it only Cyro, or is Duduka on this? Is this a new album? It’s beautiful. I know Nilson since I moved to New York 10 years ago. Anne Drummond sounds great on this.

3 Leo Gandelman

“Remexendo” (from Radamés e o Sax, Biscoito Fino). Gandelman, saxophones; Marcos Nimrichter, piano; Henrique Cazes, cavaquinho; Oscar Bolão, percussion, Omar Cavalheiro, bass. Recorded in 2006.

Before: [laughter] Wow, it’s somebody who’s interested in choro music. I love the maxixe rhythm. As soon as I heard the beginning I knew it would be about 3 minutes long. It’s in the traditional choro form of AABBACCA. The harmonization of the saxophones is from the big band tradition. The way they were phrasing it didn’t sound Brazilian, but then I listen to the cavaquinho and the drums and that’s definitely Brazilian. So, I have no clue who it is, but when they go into the swing on the C part, I love the combination of the traditional saxophone section and the rhythm.

After: Oh, it’s Leo. I love it. In a way, it sounded overdubbed because it was perfectly articulated. Usually it’s very hard to get a section to have the same ghosting.


He’s not attacking the notes all the way. It’s more duh than tuh. But it’s perfectly aligned. I like the recording quality, the way the saxes were panned. And it swings like crazy. Leo has done a lot of different things and I’ve known him for many years and I bump into him when I go to Brazil. I have lots of respect for him. He always sounds great. And Radamés [Gnatalli] was a great choro composer. His harmonies were not completely traditional, they sound like jazz pieces. He wasn’t afraid to use II-V-I’s and chromatic movement in the chords that were not in the tradition of choro. What’s up, Leo? [laughs] I’m sorry I said he was not Brazilian, he confused me in the articulation. I have to say, doing this today is fun, very relaxing for me.

4 Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway

“Adagio Swing” (from A Duet of One, IPO). Daniels, clarinet; Kellaway, piano. Recorded in 2005.

Before: I know this piece. It’s so beautiful. [makes sound between a moan and a sigh] Fantastic playing. When I grow up, I want to play like that. It has a vibe of a live performance. It’s so in the moment with great recording quality, nice sounding piano. I don’t know who’s playing, I just wish I was there at the concert. It’s like two people with fantastic technique on their instruments, but with finesse and fire in it, you know? Incredible. I need a moment to catch my breath. Obviously, it’s two people with a great connection. It’s like listening to a modern classical piece, but with great groove and flexibility of improvisation that goes from playing changes to playing classical arpeggios. It doesn’t just stay in one style. They achieved the emotional impact together, going from tension to release. My jaw dropped. Everything was just perfect, and the level of physically playing and the execution combined with emotion and dynamics, I’m in awe.

After: Yes, it’s Albinoni. I always loved this piece. It’s such a haunting melody. You don’t even need any harmony to play it, you can just hum it. It’s such a moving melody even before you try to improvise or do anything behind it. I’ve got to hang out more with Eddie. This piece is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. It’s inspiring.

5. George Garzone

“Have You Met Miss Jones” (from Four’s and Two’s, NYC). Garzone, Joe Lovano; tenor saxophone; Joey Calderazzo, piano; John Lockwood, bass; Bill Stewart, drums. Recorded in 1996.

Before: [immediately] George Garzone with Joe Lovano. [laughter] Of course Garzone was my teacher at Berklee. That’s his version of “Have You Met Miss Jones, “which he lets his students study. On this record, Lovano plays the melody and George plays his triadic system. It’s the Garzone sound. I used to see him play every Monday with The Fringe at The Lizard Lounge. Then I would have a weekly half an hour lesson.

What did he teach you?

Besides talking about his very free harmonic approach, he gave me energy. He inspired me. Every week I would go to the lesson kind of lost, with low energy, and I’d walk out,  ready to deal with the world and ready to go at it. So George was a great, positive influence on me. He’s also a great player and a beautiful person. I love him.

6 Andy Statman

“Purim” (from Between Heaven and Earth, Shanachie). Statman, clarinet; Béla Fleck, banjo. Recorded in 1996.

Before: What a great combination of folkloric banjo and klezmer clarinet. And he’s playing the scale, the D7, flat 9 harmonic minor. You can overdo all those ornaments but this is a nice balance. This sounds to me very honest.

After: Wow, I’m not really familiar with Andy Statman. This is beautiful. I really like this combination. It’s not obvious like typical klezmer. It’s subtle.

7.  Branford Marsalis

“The Return of the Jitney Man” (from Metamorphosen, Marsalis Music). Marsalis, tenor saxophone; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums. Recorded in 2008.

Before: From klezmer to something completely different. What a great arrangement. Swinging tenor playing. I like the dark sound and the time. Great ensemble playing. Everybody’s playing with him, creating energy. I don’t know who this is. It’s post-Brecker.

After: Branford. Oh it’s the new record. I should get this. I just missed him in New York, Great playing, I should have guessed. It’s too good to be anybody else.

8. Masada

“Paran” (from Live in Middelheim, Tzadik). John Zorn, alto saxophone; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Greg Cohen, bass; Joey Barron, drums. Recorded in 1999.

Before: Isn’t it interesting that the klezmer rhythm and the Brazilian baiao are almost the same? Maybe that’s why I feel at home with baiao rhythms. You hear the I, I, V, I in the bass [demonstrates by tapping out rhythm on table). But jazz musicians also use this with Latin on top. These guys are using the klezmer scales, but they’re also quoting Charlie Parker. They’re really playing with each other. Who is this alto player?  I like the bass drum and the dialog between trumpet and alto.

After: Oh, it’s John Zorn. I should check out all those Masada CDs. I have friends who use those CDs as their bible. And Greg Cohen and Joey Baron love playing together. Great, man. Music is music, right? It doesn’t matter–just play rhythms and melodies that you like and you create it in the moment. That’s what jazz is. In this, I hear musicians who are having fun.

Is there ever an issue of authenticity for you when you hear people play Jewish music?

Not when you listen to this. It’s the music that makes it authentic. They’re not playing a style. They’re just playing who they are, so it’s authentic. They’re using it as a basis to be themselves.

9.  Pee Wee Russell

“Englewood” (from Swingin’ With Pee Wee, Prestige). Russell, clarinet; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Osie Johnson, drums. Recorded in 1960.

Before: I think it’s a clarinet [laughs]. Woo! These are people playing blues from the bottom of their souls. Everybody’s feeling it. That’s the cool thing about blues, you can be yourself no matter what. No rules. This clarinet player, man, I love it. It’s got the gliss of the New Orleans playing. It’s an older person with a vibrato that people don’t use anymore. And he lets his mouth drop at the end and you fill the sound with air and you feel this phrase is over. Wow. This kind of playing reminds me a little of Tony Scott.

After: Beautiful. He’s an underrated clarinetist. I haven’t checked him out enough. You’re not hearing someone playing the clarinet. He is the clarinet. People don’t realize how expressive the clarinet can be. You can hear his sighs.

10. Paulo Moura & Yamandú Costa

“Um Chorinho em Aldeia na Glória” (from El Negro del Blanco, Biscoito Fino). Moura, clarinet; Costa, guitar. Released in 2004.

Before: This song is called Choro, and they’re playing it in B-flat, so it’s Paulo and Yamandú. I recognize Yamandú’s playing, nobody else plays like that today. I haven’t heard this record but I wanted to record a duo record with Yamandú. I got to play quite a bit with him in Brazil. This is a tricky song, technically. Paulo is playing it in B-flat, I play it in C. Rhythmically it’s not that hard, but technically it is. It’s a lot of jumps.

After: Paulo Mauro, I love his soul. He’s a beautiful cat. When he plays samba, he is the essence. He’s the real Brazilian music. There are not a lot of clarinetists in Brazil who are so distinguished. I love them both and I can’t wait to hang out with them again and play. They are fantastic, playful.

11. Coleman  Hawkins and Ben Webster

“La Rosita” (from Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster, Verve). Hawkins, Webster, tenor saxophones; Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums. Recorded in 1957.

Before: It sounds so familiar, I know this recording. It’s beautiful, an eternal melody. You just need to believe in the melody and play it. And because I just woke up, I hear this and think it’s going to be a good day. It’s cool. This is when people would just play what the music asks for.  It’s relaxing. It starts with a minor melody that’s melancholic and sad, then it opens up in the major section and it’s optimistic. It sounds like Ben Webster. It’s the airy tone, bending the notes, cool, swinging.

After: This is a great song. Nobody does it anymore. Maybe it’s time to play it again.

12. Jimmy Giuffre

“The Sheepherder” (from The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet. Giuffre, clarinet; Buddy Collette, alto clarinet; Harry Klee, bass clarinet. Recorded in 1956.

Before: A clarinet quartet? The clarinet comes from the classical world but you can play it in a way that imitates nature. The use of the air is not the so-called legit classical way of playing the clarinet. So people don’t know that the clarinet can sound like this. This is so beautiful. I have no clue what this is. It’s a through-composed piece. I feel like I’m sitting around a campfire near green trees and a waterfall and someone went to catch a fish. I like music that evokes imagination. Of course I don’t know if that says more about the music, or about me [laughs].

After: I should have guessed. It was his sound. I just never heard him doing that. I come from the world of classical clarinet and there are people who would say that’s a no-no, that this sound not legit. But I think it’s beautiful. It’s like when I saw Tony Scott for the first time and it blew my mind. You can play the clarinet like that? I love this. It sounds like a classical piece but it doesn’t sound like classical players.

14. Artie Shaw

“Special Delivery Stomp” (from Begin The Beguine, RCA). Shaw, clarinet; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, harpsichord; Al Hendrickson, guitar; Jud DeNaut, bass; Nick Fatool, drums. Recorded in 1940.

Before: What is this? Is that a harpsichord? I’ve never heard anything like this. That’s great. I have no clue what it is. It’s got that older swing sound with quarter notes, solos, and a shout chorus. It’s also got humor.

After: Really? I have to confess, I haven’t done my homework on Artie Shaw. I don’t know how much my clarinet is influenced by clarinet players. I’ve got to check out more Artie Shaw, definitely. I like the happy, older, steady rhythm. Some people say it’s old fashioned, but I think it’s exciting. It makes you want to dance.

15. Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

“Big Nick” (from Duke Ellington Meets John Coltrane, Impulse). Ellington, piano; Coltrane, soprano sax; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums. Recorded in 1962.

Thank you for playing that. “Big Nick,” Coltrane. I remember the first time I really heard this recording. I got sucked inside it was when I was jogging. I was so into his tenor playing, and then when I heard this I really heard his soprano playing, and the language and personality he used with it. Coltrane’s sound on this is so sweet, yet it’s so complex and he’s playing all over the horn, harmonically. The soprano is challenging that way, not just to keep in tune, but to sound effortless in the whole range. I heard this when I was jogging and my feet stopped and I had to just stand and listen by that muddy river in Boston. It changed my life. Coltrane changed my life. It wasn’t the notes. It was the spirit, to be so pure to express who they are, to be themselves. That’s what I listen to music for. I want to feel something. And in our culture, there’s so much materialism, we need to stop and take a breath and create a moment that we can experience together.

Any other recordings that changed your life?

Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, People Time, just to dive inside the CD and live inside it forever. I listened to “For Ruth” again and again and weep. And there was a period when I was crazy about Bill Evans Affinity. I never heard harmonica like that. Someone left that cassette in my parent’s car and I was mesmerized.


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