The young musician highlights what it takes to deliver amazing music
Emmet Cohen’s recipe for a winning performance involves four simple ingredients: connection, consistency, concentration and love.
Playing the piano since age 3, 29-year-old Cohen’s career is still in its early stages, but he’s already made some big waves.
A three-time finalist for the prestigious American Pianists’ Cole Porter Fellowship, Cohen is in the running for the 2019 award this spring. Growing up in New Jersey and Miami, where he studied under the great Shelly Berg, the young composer now resides in New York City, where he is the Hammond B-3 organist-in-residence at the SMOKE jazz club and has performed at major jazz festivals all over the world, including New Orleans, Monterey, Newport, Jerusalem and Bern. He even performed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and, after becoming a finalist in the famed Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, was escorted by jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath and Wayne Shorter to the White House to meet President Obama.
He’s released six albums, including a Masters Legacy Series featuring (so far) drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Ron Carter. His versatile range has been likened to that of Chick Corea, his one-handed solo playing to Red Garland, his surprising variations to Martial Solal. He’s been praised for his fluidity, charisma and unique ability to connect with a vast gamut of fellow musicians and audiences.
The key word here …
“Music is the ultimate expression of freedom, of people working together and showing that together, we are greater than any one,” Cohen says. “Whatever it is you choose to do in life, more can be achieved when you work together in a certain way. That’s really what jazz teaches. When people see a great jazz ensemble, it’s an example of human beings working together at their highest level. It’s one of the greatest gifts of human capability.”
Of course, the world has its fair share of hot and cold talent. Some days, an individual’s skills could be smoking while other days they’re frozen. As Cohen sees it, this doesn’t fly for great jazz.
“The greatest people at any job where you have to execute – it could be sports, music, even being a scientist – the biggest thing involved is consistency. I try to be as consistent as possible. Whether I’ve gotten 10 hours of sleep or zero, whether I’ve traveled all day or not,” he says.
Consistency cannot be confused with flexibility, for which Cohen and his trio are famous. In order to jump from one eclectic number to the next, channeling the mystique of a certain musical era and stamping it with a fresh twist, a deep level of focus comes into play.
“Playing in a trio setting, it allows for a lot of flexibility and repertoire,” Cohen says. “In my band, we have hundreds of options to play, things we’ve worked on extensively. We try to keep everything in the book. You’re live DJing … that’s part of the exploration. We don’t follow a set list, we follow the energy of the room. That’s part of the magic of our presentation. We play in the style of all of our favorite bands, spanning a hundred years of jazz, from Jelly Roll, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, to beboppers and some of our favorite modern composers. We’ve taken a lot from the history of jazz and our own take on the way music can be presented. The further back you go in history, the more you study, the further you’re able to push it.”
Though not taste-specific, love is the first flavor any audience member immediately picks up in Cohen’s formula. It’s probably safe to say that it’s the key ingredient.
“You have to bring a feeling of love to the music,” he says. “Love is an esoteric word. It means so many things. It means I’m humble and grateful for the opportunity to play music each and every day. It also means I understand all the sacrifices my musical ancestors made for me to be able to play. It describes my overall feelings about the piano and music in general, how it relates to whoever is listening and their understanding of how much it means to me.”
And if there were a sprinkle of something extra Cohen brings to his dish, it’s hope.
“We’re artists on a mission to try to improve people’s lives, to help them forget about pain they’ve been experiencing,” he says. “One of the main messages of jazz is that of hope. You can hear the sound of hope in all of the jazz masters. I try to play with musicians who want to leave other musicians and the audience with that feeling of hope.”
The Emmet Cohen Trio returns to Vail March 12
The Emmet Cohen Trio, featuring Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, ignites The Sonnenalp Hotel with love, hope and mind-blowing instrumental talent in back-to-back performances at Ludwig’s Terrace. Seating is jazz club style with full dinner and bar service available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Doors open at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.
Get tickets here to the 5:30 p.m. show.
Get tickets here to the 8 p.m. show.