Born and raised in Israel, Avishai Cohen has often combined Middle Eastern and Israeli music with both electric and acoustic jazz. Cohen began studying the piano at age 11 and was 14 when he became interested in jazz. After playing piano in a high school jazz band, Cohen switched to the electric bass and soon fell in love with the music of Jaco Pastorius. Cohen was 16 when he enrolled in the Music & Arts High School in Jerusalem, and as a young adult, he played a few local gigs in Jerusalem before being drafted into the Israeli army. When Cohen's two years in the military ended, he was able to concentrate on jazz once again and decided to try the acoustic bass, which became his main instrument for much of the 1990s. In 1992, Cohen moved to New York without having any real connections there, and ended up paying the rent doing moving and construction work. But after making some connections in the New York jazz scene, Cohen went on to play live gigs with such notables as Ravi Coltrane, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Paquito D'Rivera, Roy Hargrove, and Leon Parker. One of his most fruitful associations was with Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, who employed him on his 1996 session, Panamonk. After coming to the attention of Chick Corea and his longtime business partner, Ron Moss, Cohen was signed to their Stretch label and recorded his first album, Adama, in 1997. The following year, Corea hired Cohen to play in his newly created acoustic outfit, Origin. Colors was released in mid-2000.
St Louis Post Dispatch Jan. 22, 2004
PREVIEW - Jazz At The Bistro: AVISHAI COHEN
By Terry Perkins
If you’re searching for a prime example of the increasing internationalization of jazz, look no farther than Avishai Cohen. Born in Israel, Cohen learned how to play jazz here in St. Louis during two years spent at Ladue High School.
After returning to Israel to hone his musical skills, Cohen made the move to New York City in 1992 – where one of his first big breaks was working with Panamanian-born pianist Danilo Pérez on the keyboard player’s critically acclaimed “Panamonk” recording. After joining Chick Corea’s Origin band, Cohen started a career as a leader and formed the International Vamp Band several years ago, which created a unique sound from a blend of Afro-Cuban, Middle Eastern and jazz influences.
Cohen, who is making his debut as a leader in St. Louis at Jazz at the Bistro this week, actually started out playing classical piano at the age of 11 in Israel. It wasn’t until he came to St. Louis that jazz attracted his attention.
My mother had a job at the Jewish Community Center, so we moved to St. Louis when I was 14 and stayed for two years,” recalls Cohen. “At Ladue High School I got interested in jazz, and ended up taking lessons from Jay Hungerford. He was an inspiration to me. I had been playing classical piano, but I guess my interest in jazz came about because of my closeness to improvisation and composing my own music. I was really attracted to that rather than playing written notes of famous composers and calling it a day.”
Cohen returned to Israel, where he worked hard on his music, finishing his studies at Jerusalem’s Music and Arts High School and playing local clubs while serving for two years in the Israeli army. At the age of 21, he headed to New York, determined to become a jazz musician.
“I wanted to see if I could make a jazz career possible,” he explains. “The first year was pretty tough since I really didn’t know anyone and had to not only build musical relationships but also gain confidence by learning the music better. But I hooked up with other international musicians like Danilo Pérez and that helped me gain exposure on the scene.”
After working with Pérez on “Panamonk,” Cohen came to the attention of Chick Corea, who signed up Cohen as a recording artist to his own Stretch label – and asked him to become the bassist in Origin. After releasing “Adama,” his debut album as a leader in 1998, Cohen has gone on to record four more recordings under his name – and has plans to take his current band into the studio a few weeks after his Bistro performances.
“Just about everything we’ll be performing in St. Louis will be the music that we’ll be recording in the studio in February,” states Cohen. “My current group (Yosvany Terry – sax, Sam Bar-sheset – keyboards, Mark Guiliana – drums) is really an evolution of the International Vamp Band. We’re blending all kinds of influences – even classical and hip-hop – and this group is just a blast to work with. We’re really pushing the limits and it’s very intense and very much fun at the same time. I want to be in touch with all styles of music – when the music is good and the musicians are willing to put it all on the table. And that’s what’s so exciting about this band.”