Jazz clarinetist tired of musical sexism

Feb 10, 2017

All this week, the MSU College of Music has welcomed an Israeli jazz musician to jam with their students and do a tour around Michigan schools. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley has more with Anat Cohen.


From the very beginning of rehearsal with the MSU Jazz Octet at the MSU College of Music, Anat Cohen, of the MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artists in Residence Program with, is quite laid back.

"Yeah I mean there's the details and so many people are really good at actually teaching, you know, the harmonic concepts and the phrases," Says Cohen "and we have of course all the records to learn from and transcribe and to learn what to play on each chord. But how to think as a human being understanding that you're not playing with the piano or with the drums, you're playing with a musician. The person behind the piano, and everybody has their personalities, and everybody are bringing something to the table. And the kind of acceptance we have when we communicate with another person, and how do we make them feel when we do something, and how do we make them welcome. We, basically, we can make people shine and we can make people be closed up, so this is really a lot of things we can do. And school environment, I mean, is an interesting one because you want to get all the information but you also want to remember the human side behind the music."

That humanistic approach towards music is something Anat Cohen is trying to emulate since there is often a schism, or break, between the worlds of classical music and the jazz community. But for Anat Cohen, there is no difference.

“This is kind of an interesting concept because, you know, it's in a way, really, lack of respect. So how do you expect the public to- I mean it's really, it's really traditionalist- and I know there's a great classical department here. Sometimes I can compare to me being a Jewish person: and with all due respect to everybody in the world, I think, you know, there's a lot of fear in religions for example. Fear of progress and fear of the modern world, and you're afraid you're going to loose if people know what's out there, they're gonna not want to stay. They're going to want to change and bring new ideas and the tradition is going to disappear, and it's a very jealous kind of approach.”

In the world of jazz, just as with current political climate, Anat is exhausted dealing with the issue of gender and representation.

"It shouldn't be an issue anymore. This is 2017." says Cohen. "Okay, there's this band, there's like 5 women, and you know 7 guys, and that's it, they'll say. Oh, and I'm guilty as well because when I see 3 girls in the band I'm like 'Oh, great! There's women!' because it's still not common, you know? Women could always play music, but you know as far what the newspaper accept and the recognition, that's a whole different story and it comes with the- it's just it's funny. You're just watching Mad Men and you watch the environment of how women are treated in the '60s. And you're thinking 'Oh wow!' How do you expect media and commercials to really respect women by what they do and what they work [at] when they're just portrayed as just beautiful objects? Yeah, I mean it's changing"

But does Cohen think it is getting better?

"Yeah, I think so." she explains. "Of course you always find individuals, that they are old fashioned closed minded people, that they don't- not respectful. But I would assume that those people are not necessarily respectful not just to women, to many other parts and layers of society and the world."

But according to Anat Cohen what does it take to make jazz succeed?

"I mean it takes personalities and it takes a lot of courage. It's a real, real, real art. And when it's made well it's fantastic. And when it's not made well, it's boring. "

Clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen was in residency this week at the MSU College of Music. More information at music.msu.edu.

Edited to add Cohen's full position with MSU College of Music and the MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artists in Residence Program.