INTERVIEW: Avishai Cohen (with BBC Concert Orchestra - Only 2017 UK performance - Barbican. Thurs 9th Feb.)

Bassist Avishai Cohen. Photo credit: Youri Lenquette


Bassist AVISHAI COHEN will be presenting his only UK concert of 2017, "An Evening with Avishai Cohen" at the Barbican on Thursday Feb 9th, with his trio and the BBC Concert Orchestra. The evening will be in memory of JOHN ELLSON. LondonJazz News Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon interviewed Avishai Cohen, and found out more about the concert:

LondonJazz News: You were born in Israel, you have lived in various parts of the U.S., your family roots take in Spain, Greece and Poland - what effect has this multi-geographic and multicultural sense of the world had within the development of your character and your music?

Avishai Cohen: Israel has always been influenced by a great mix of culture; Moroccan, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Spanish, Eastern European Nations and also the descendants of Jewish people from many other different places. These influences exist in the music, language and in the good food, and everyone absorbs these things in different ways which allows for a lot of creativity.

LJN: You began as a pianist and could have continued purely on that instrument - what drew you to the double bass?

AC: At the age of 9 I started messing around with the piano. I was inspired by Jaco Pastorius when I first heard his music, and I picked up the electric bass at age 14, it was later on that I started learning the double bass. I was always was going to move to the acoustic upright bass I guess, but I came to it late at around the age of 20. I guess then I found the confidence to take on the challenge and embrace this unique instrument with a great teacher in Israel .The Bass has been my closest musical partner ever since. I explored and developed my own way of playing and performing with it over the years, it's a big part of my message as a leader, it's a blessing!

LJN: Do you think the developments in microphone technology have helped double bassists to a more prominent role in modern music?

AC: These days it’s important to have a good sound engineer with you in live shows

LJN: Have you always sung? Was there a lot of singing in your house when you were growing up? And what does the voice add to your music?

AC: I can say that I have been formed as a musician from my mother’s influence, I remember my mother singing at home, she sings beautifully. My mother is a Sephardic descendent and speaks Ladino, and so was influenced by the culture’s music. Her voice and the way she sings is exactly like me. I have inherited everything from my mother.

Singing is one of the most difficult and scary things I do, it's like going to the street with no clothes on. You are naked in front of everybody's judgement, but it is such an intimate reflection of your heart, in the sense that a lot of people can get close to you. Singing for me came later, I was already established as a musician, which made it even harder because I had so much criticism of myself, which is the main problem in life: your own criticism of yourself. It's about accepting yourself or not. And I had to work on it pretty hard to get to the place where you are comfortable, but still today I don't consider myself to be a singer. Singing is another element which is extremely important in life and in my music but it is just another element, but I have to say that now I feel much more connected with the singing and much more comfortable.

LJN: Your Barbican concert is dedicated to the memory of manager and concert producer John Ellson who died in October. The saxophonist John Harle said in tribute that Ellson “believed completely in the freedom of musicians to express themselves”. How did you meet John Ellson and do you have some particular memories of him you could share? 

AC: I met Mr John Ellson (Elsi) around 1999 in Argentina. I can't think of anyone else I’ve met in this business that was so generous, real and purely good like John. I will miss him dearly, especially his wonderful sense of humor and many stories and anecdotes that he shared with me.

LJN: In "An Evening With Avishai Cohen", you bring together your solo and trio work, and incorporate it within an orchestra, and you bring together the Hebrew and Ladino songs plus the jazz. Does it feel like a summation of your career to date? 

AC: This project features my dynamic trio with the integration of symphony orchestra which give another dimension to my music. The result is an exhilarating musical experience. It can be intimate but also high impact, bringing these two big worlds of classical and jazz together.



LJN: And, musically, where do you want to go from here? Are there any more mountains to climb?

AC: By the end of the year I will be releasing a new album on Sony Masterworks, the new project is called “Avishai Cohen’s Jazz Free” the name coming from the fact that this fantastic group of musicians are not known as ‘jazz musicians’. They are Yael Shapira on acoustic and electric cello, Elyasaf Bishari on oud, and bass/ electric guitar, Itamar Doari with percussion and the three of them also perform vocals with myself. We also have Jonatan Daskal on keyboards and Tal Kohavi on drums. It’s going to be a more groovy sound. I am also working with French film directors to have my music featuring in their next film which will come out at the end of this year, or beginning of next year, so many interesting projects I am working on.

LJN: Thank you again for taking the time to reply and all best wishes for your upcoming concerts,(pp)

LINK: Bookings / details Barbican 9th February concert

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