May 18 2017
Originally hailing from Perth, pianist Tal Cohen has been making waves internationally since he moved to the US a few years ago. He has played with heavyweights such as Terence Blanchard, Robert Hurst, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Joe Lovano to name a few. We caught up with the 2015 Freedman Fellowship winner ahead of his Melbourne International Jazz Festival appearance.
How did you get into jazz?
I started with playing classical music back in Israel but i was always interested in jazz… I remember that my Dad put on some Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin when i was young. I loved the guitar solos and the Deep purple organ solos by Jon Lord. I then started checking out more organ and got into the great jazz organist Jimmy Smith, and from there i just got into jazz.
Who are your biggest influences?
There are too many to name. All the greats such as Bill Evans, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Red Garland and many, many more. I’m definitely influenced by classical music as i grew up on it, but more so I think I have been influenced by a lot of the people that I have been fortunate to play with in recent years such as Terence Blanchard, Greg Osby, Jeff Tain, Gonzalo Rubacalba, David Binney, John Daversa and many more.
Tal in the studio after recording 'Gentle Giants.' L-R Greg Osby, Jamie Oehlers, Nate Winn, Tal Cohen and Robert Hurst.
How did your collaborating with Greg Osby come about?
I first met Greg when he toured Australia. He came to Perth and I got hired to do the gig. He is one of the most creative minds on the planet - I love his playing. He said some nice things to me after the gigs and I thought "man it would be great to play again." Not long after I found myself in the US and after I won the Fellowship I thought to myself, "I can actually ask him to do this." So I did! And he said yes- he was very kind and very considerate to my budget… we did the rehearsal I remember he came over to me and the only thing he said was- "I'm impressed," and that was it!
We recorded the album the next day and I was so happy with how it came out. Not long after we started touring and doing gigs with his band around the US, and we are soon to record his next album.
What spurred you to move to the US?
It was one of those crazy things- I woke up one day and there was an email from the University of Miami saying- "Hey we’ve heard about you and checked out your music, would you like to come to the US on a full scholarship to do your Masters and also teach?" It took me a while to answer , but eventually i thought that it was the right move.
What has been your career highlight thus far?
There has been many that I can note as career highlights- playing with Greg Osby all around has certainly been a learning experience, but I would say that playing duo with him in Maine was a highlight. It's a special experience playing duo just you and him- he’s such a powerful player.
I've also had the chance to do some stuff with the Terence Blanchard Quintet. We played for the Blue Note 70th Anniversary at the Grammy Museum in LA - a very special venue.
I had the privilege of playing at the Detroit Jazz Festival as the winner of the Barry Harris Piano Competition. An amazing opportunity to play to a huge crowd. That's where I met Nate Winn who plays drums on my album. I played with my favourite bass player in the world- Robert Hurst (who is also on the album).
The other career highlight would definitely be playing at the Sydney Opera House for the Freedman Fellowship Award. An amazing venue. I played with my good friend and mentor Jamie Oehlers who is also on my album - 'Gentle Giants’ this album certainly would not have been possible without the Fellowship Award. I cannot be thankful enough.
What’s something we may not know about you?
I hate eggplants- one of the songs on the album is dedicated to it. I love zucchinis, but for some reason I hate eggplants.
What are you most looking forward to about coming to Melbourne?
I can’t wait to play! I have a great group and I can’t wait to play at this new venue- The Jazzlab and an amazing Festival I can’t wait to be a part of.
What's the concept behind your album, 'Gentle Giants'?
This album represents many things to me. It is a collaboration between American and Australian musicians of the highest calibre. There are so many amazing jazz artists in Australia and I hope that this is a small representation of what is out there.
The concept behind the album is an old one - don’t judge a book by its cover. And the title is dedicated to people who might seem frightening but are true 'Gentle Giants.’ I truly think the world needs more acceptance and less judgment.
Musically, I have written material that is very open and certainly had these musicians on my mind when i wrote the music. I'm so happy with the result and I think that it has something for everyone.
Can’t wait to play it live!
We can't wait to hear it live, too! To check out Tal's playing, visit his website here for videos in the studio.
He plays with a stellar line up on opening night of the Festival. Book now!
Tal Cohen piano
Greg Osby alto saxophone
Jamie Oehlers tenor saxophone
Sam Anning bass
Tim Firth drums