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Israeli family plays jazz together

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The Three Cohens, from left, Yuval, Avishai and Anat.

It is unusual to have three acclaimed musicians in one family. But The Three Cohens, Anat, Avishai and Yuval, all excelled as jazz musicians while growing up in Israel.

The Israeli trio went to the United States in 1994 to study music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and chose to remain there following their studies.

The Three Cohens will perform in Toronto this month in Koerner Hall, on a bill with the Jamey Haddad Arab Jazz Ensemble, as part of the conservatory’s Jazz Music From The Middle East series.

The Cohens will play songs from their new CD, Family, at the concert.

“The CD allows us to show how well we blend and have a unique sound. This is our third CD together, and we each add our instruments in creating a unique jazz sound,” said Avishai, the youngest of the trio who plays the trumpet. 

Elder brother Yuval plays the soprano saxophone and middle sibling, Anat, plays both the clarinet and alto saxophone.  All siblings are grateful to the Berklee College of Music for allowing them to hone their chops in jazz music.

“We all had talent and were influenced by the jazz recordings that we heard from our father. I took to jazz when Avishai played the trumpet. Our skills became honed when Berklee did recruiting in Israel for all of us to get music scholarships. First, they wanted Yuval, then me and then Avishai,” said Anat.

 Each member of the trio has an individual solo career, so they look forward to touring together this year.

“We are so musically integrated that we don’t even have to talk to know what to do musically. Family was wonderful for us to try new ways of playing jazz, such as Duke Ellington’s The Mooch or Rhapsody in Blake, which was inspired by the song I Hear a Rhapsody, said Anat.

Anat, 36, is the most acclaimed of The Three Cohens. She was voted best clarinettist of the year four years in a row, from 2007 to 2010, by the Jazz Journalists Association – the first time any clarinettist has been voted in for four years in a row. 

Downbeat magazine called her one of the best clarinettists as well as one of the best tenor saxophonists of all time. 

Cohen has released CDs on her own label, Anzic Records, including the highly acclaimed Clarinetwork (2010), a salute to the famed clarinettist Benny Goodman on his centennial.

Anat studied classical music at age 12, but switched to jazz in high school, playing for the Jaffa Conservatory Dixieland Band. Before enrolling at Berklee, she served in the Israeli military, playing music in the Israeli Armed Forces Band.

“Our soldiers put their lives at risk every day, so it was a great honour to play for them and to be proud of all I achieved, even before going to Berklee,” she said.

After graduating from Berklee in 1998, Anat flourished as a musician by playing world music, including Afro-Cuban, Argentine tango, Brazilian and klezmer. 

“Oddly enough, most of us think of klezmer as Jewish music, but the minor sound in the clarinet is found in other cultures as well,” Anat said. “The great thing about playing music is that I think of myself as an international musician with no borders.

“I feel blessed that people view me as an ambassador of music for Israel, even if I perform not only in Israel, but all over the world,” she said.

The Three Cohens perform Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. at Koerner Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music. For tickets, call 416-408-0208 or go to www.rcmusic.ca. For more information, visit www.3cohens.com or www.anatcohen.com.

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