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FONT Music or Festival: Amir ElSaffar & Avishai Cohen
(Le) Poisson Rouge
New York, NY
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FONT Music or Festival: Amir ElSaffar & Avishai Cohen
FONT Music
The Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT Music) was created to support new trumpet music in all its forms, and to provide a platform for emerging artists and creative pioneers. Its primary goal is to celebrate the excellence of the current music scene by hosting an astoundingly broad array of new trumpet music performances. By presenting over two weeks of concerts, commissioning new works, creating new projects, hosting panels, and collaborating with other New York presenters and international artists, FONT exposes the exciting range of current activity and brings together disparate communities of musicians, students, and audiences. FONT Music, a non-profit organization, also gives back to the community by benefiting music programs in the New York City Public Schools.

Avishai Cohen is a leading figure on the international jazz scene and one of the most sought-after players of his generation  an assertive and accomplished trumpeter with a taste for modernism, according to Nate Chinen of The New York Times. Though deeply rooted in the bebop and post-bop tradition, Avishai is taking jazz in new directions, making waves as an improviser, composer and bandleader. Originally from Tel Aviv, he began performing at age 10. He toured the world with the Young Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and went on to become the trumpet player of choice for many leading jazz, rock, pop, studio and television projects. He received a full scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and in 1997 he placed third in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Trumpet Competition.

Avishai came of age as part of the fertile scene at Smalls, the storied New York jazz club, where he developed his artistic vision alongside such friends and colleagues as pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Omer Avital and vocalist Claudia Acua. Here the imperatives of jazz tradition and innovation were not in conflict, but rather merged into one powerful creative stream. Avishai flourished in an environment where hard-driving swing, open-ended funk, Latin and Middle Eastern rhythms, complex extended forms and free improvisation converged under one roof, drawing enthusiastic audiences. All of Avishais diverse work, as a leader, co-leader and sideman, is informed by this broad-minded legacy, which has given jazz new vitality and relevance in the 21st century.

Avishai made his debut as a leader in 2003 with The Trumpet Player, a burning straightahead session with bassist John Sullivan (Roy Haynes), drummer Jeff Ballard (Chick Corea, Pat Metheny) and special guest Joel Frahm on tenor. His second album, After the Big Rain, is the last part of The Big Rain Trilogy, a series of recordings that is now nearing completion. The trilogy also includes Before the Big Rain (part one), a large-group outing, and The Big Rain (part two), a trio encounter with Yonatan Avishai on piano and Daniel Freedman on percussion. Avishais music is alternately moody and joyous, richly atmospheric yet beat-driven and grooving, suffused with compositional depth, inspired improvisation and a profound world-music influence. Avishai plays open and muted trumpet but also routes his horn through electronic effects that range from the dreamy to the snarling and distorted. Hes been developing these sounds over the course of the last decade. When I play effects, I play a different instrument, he says. The whole concept changes.

Avishais other credits range from touring with the celebrated French-American singer-songwriter Keren Ann, to sharing the stage with the great Bobby Hutcherson in the all-star San Francisco Jazz Collective. In addition, Avishai is the co-leader of Third World Love, with Omer Avital, drummer Daniel Freedman and pianist Yonatan Avishai, a group with four recordings to its credit. He also leads a funk-oriented band with bassist Meshell Ndegeocello and drummer Adam Deitch, and continues to perform extensively with the 3 Cohens, which he formed with his sister Anat and brother Yuval, both gifted reeds players. With his incredible instrumental skill and world-spanning musical interests, Avishai, in the words of critic Ben Ratliff, has all the power and tenacity hes going to need.

Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar put his New York career on hold in 2002 to immerse himself in the music of his ancestry, the Iraqi Maqam. Already an accomplished jazz and classical trumpeter, having performed with esteemed artists such as Cecil Taylor, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer, and Daniel Barenboim, and having won the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet competition, ElSaffar traveled to Iraq, throughout the Middle East and to Europe, where he pursued masters who could impart to him the centuries-old tradition. He quickly became versed in Maqam and found ways to adapt the microtones and ornaments to his trumpet playing. He went on to learn to play the santoor (Iraqi hammered dulcimer) and to sing, and he now leads the only ensemble in the US performing Iraqi Maqam, Safaafir. This ensemble has researched ancient practices that have been lost in recent generations, and is now reviving these sounds, continuing the legacy of the great masters of the Maqam tradition.

In 2006, upon receiving a commission from the Painted Bride Arts Center in Philadelphia, ElSaffar composed Two Rivers, a groundbreaking and emotionally-charged suite that invokes Iraqi musical traditions and frames them in a modern Jazz setting. The recording, recently released on Pi Recordings, was described by JazzTimes "fresh, deep, intensely performed music...an organic amalgam," and by All About Jazz as "a stirring example of the creative possibilities of international jazz in the 21st century," and by the Philadelphia Inquirer as hypnotic and arresting. In addition, Two Rivers appeared on the Boston Globe's Top 10 list of 2007, Philadelphia City Papers top Jazz releases of 2007, and was selected by the Village Voice critic's poll as the runner-up Debut jazz release of 2007.

Born in 1977 near Chicago, Illinois to an Iraqi father and American mother, Amir was influenced at a young age by an array of musical styles, including Classical, Rock, Jazz and Chicago-style Blues. He was exposed to Iraqi and Arabic music at a young age, but his interest in this music would not come until much later. He attended DePaul University in Chicago, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Classical Trumpet in 1999.

As a Classical trumpeter, Amir recorded with Daniel Barenboim and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the 1999 Teldec release, "Tribute to Ellington," and was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago from 1997-1999, performing with such esteemed conductors as Pierre Boulez, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Maestro Barenboim.

As a Jazz trumpeter, Amir won two major competitions: the 2001 Carmine Caruso Jazz Trumpet Competition and the 2001 International Trumpet Guild Jazz Improvisation Competition, and has performed with esteemed artists such as Cecil Taylor, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer, Randy Brecker, Miya Masaoka, and Samir Chatterjee, among others.

Amir's journey into the Iraqi Maqam began in his 2002 trip to Baghdad as he was seeking out inspiration for his Jazz compositions and improvisations. What was supposed to be two weeks turned into six months, as Amir became completely taken by the Maqam, and was determined to learn as much as he could about this rich musical tradition. He began studying Maqam singing and learning to play the santoor (Iraqi hammered-dulcimer). In early 2003, with the war looming, Amir left Iraq and went to Europe to continue his research under the tutelage of Maqam masters Hamid al-Saadi, Baher al-Rejeb, and Farida Mohammed Ali. Amir has now mastered a significant portion of the Maqam repertoire, which has very few surviving masters and is one of the most sophisticated and complex traditional music forms of the Middle East.


(Le) Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 11205
United States



Minimum Age: 18
Kid Friendly: No
Dog Friendly: No
Non-Smoking: No
Wheelchair Accessible: No


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