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Anat Cohen on the Art of Musical Uplift, and the Experience of Feeling Good with WBGO

Shervin Lainez

“It’s important to me that music is an engine for feeling,” says Anat Cohen.

“If the music is grooving, then I respond. When everybody’s focused on that feeling, it’s elevating – for the people onstage, and for the audience.”

A clarinetist, tenor saxophonist and bandleader known to impart good feeling in almost any setting, Cohen is taking a moment to reflect on our fall fund drive, Feeling Good with WBGO. It’s a theme that resonates with her — as an artist, as a person and as a WBGO listener herself.

“I mainly listen to WBGO in the mornings, when I’m at home in New York,” she affirms. “I often discover what my colleagues are doing through the radio: ‘Hey, this person has an album coming out today.’ Or when you list who’s playing where. I love when I hear one of my friends being acknowledged on WBGO. I text them and say ‘Man, I just heard you on the radio!’”

What about when it’s her sound on our broadcast signal? “It’s always a surprise,” Cohen says. “If I hear my own music coming over the radio — ‘Oh my god, I’m on the radio!’ — it really brings me excitement. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Growing up in Israel, Anat absorbed a cosmopolitan array of jazz and folk music. She gravitated early to the music of Brazil, which remains a special area of study. “There was a flow, something light about it, the way people were talking and the sound of the language,” she recalls. “It was laid-back but positive and accepting. Later on it went along with the attitude of the people I met in Brazil: embracing, and not suspicious, and welcoming.”

Last year WBGO premiered tracks from two simultaneous releases by Cohen, each one a manifestation of her affinities for Brazil. The tunes were played on Morning Jazz, and simultaneously featured in an article at wbgo.org. Cohen has since appeared a couple of times in our weekly editorial playlist, Take Five.

“It’s great to get the in-depth stories and interviews online that you don’t necessarily get on the radio,” Cohen says. “WBGO has such a good reputation, and such a wonderful collection of knowledgeable people choosing good music for people to listen. Once you’re making it to the website, people check it out because it comes with authority.”

Still, she’s the first to admit that her pathway to Feeling Good with WBGO begins with her radio dial. “The other morning I turned it on and heard Cannonball Adderley playing ‘Jive Samba,’” she says. “I was alone, and turned on the radio and suddenly I was inside a party. It felt so casual and so relaxed. It’s perfect. Music can bring you up and bring you down, and WBGO definitely does the former.”

WBGO’s fall fund drive is entering its final weekend — and every contribution made by midnight Sunday will be matched dollar for dollar. Please make your contribution now, to help us keep the good feeling going — both on the radio and here at wbgo.org.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.