Just Jazzy: an interview with Avishai Cohen

Written by
Jennifer Greenberg
With the 2nd International Jerusalem Jazz Festival just around the corner, we sat down with jazz trumpeter and artistic director of the festival, Avishai Cohen, to learn more about the event and the Israeli sensation that helped make the three-day music extravaganze happen:
How did the Jerusalem Jazz festival come to be?
Avishai: The festival evolved from the creative collaboration of a few initiatives – the main being the Israel festival, joined by the Yellow Submarine and the Israel Museum. They all had a similar notion in mind of promoting culture. When they approached me to direct it, of course I said yes. And from there on in, it grew and grew and grew as we found a great location and talented musicians to fill it.
Speaking of location, a Jazz festival inside a museum is quite out of the ordinary. How do you find this set-up affects the music produced?
Avishai: I think there is something truly special about creating music within another artistic space. The museum creates a unique experience that you cannot get anywhere else. I’ve played many festivals all over the world, but playing in a place that is already filled with art and inspiration for you to play off of is one-of-a-kind. In any concert, you have to bring all the vibes with you, and in this case, you have to make those vibes fit with the gallery, while being sensitive to the artist and surrounding art. It’s a challenge to be attuned to what’s going on in the specific gallery you play in and how to turn that artist’s work into the perfect environment for your music.
Avishai Cohen Trumpet

© Kaupo Kikkas

'I love this city and absolutely everything about it' 

How exactly will the event take place?
Avishai: Except for the main shows that happen in the auditorium, each musician or musical act will play sets in different galleries around the museum. With full-day access, it frees the listener up to explore the museum, while allowing their senses to take in the different atmospheres that blend with the artwork.
Do the musician’s choose which gallery space they play in?
Avishai: No. While the musicians know the gallery they will be playing in ahead of time, I am the one who chooses who plays where. It takes some time to build the puzzle, but once it’s final, everything fits into place.
Many would say Tel Aviv is the more ‘culturally happening’ city. So why pick Jerusalem?
Avishai: I love this city and absolutely everything about it. Plus, the people coming here may be used to the Tel Aviv scene so they love this opportunity because it’s special and not a place they would come to often…but with the festival, they’re always pleasantly surprised.
Avishai Cohen cover

© Kaupo Kikkas

Who should listeners be most pleasantly surprised for? Any standouts in the lineup this year?
Avishai: I don't want to pick specific musicians. It’s like children. I can’t prefer one over the other; however, I will say that while the international artists are of course living proof of the diverse range of musicians dedicated to Israel, you’ll definitely get a very sincere and fulfilling experience in all of the Israeli acts that are coming to this year’s event.
On that note, any final comments for the readers and potential attendees?
Avishai: Come to the festival and check out the beautiful marriage of music and art for yourself. It’s very cheap and meant for young people too, not just older people with a lot of money. I want jazz to be available to everyone. It’s going to be a truly amazing experience.
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