Just some lyrics from a composition called “Endings” by award-winning jazz vocalist Estar Cohen; and this propulsive image aptly fits for her music career, as each year since her 2015 graduation from the University of Toledo has gotten busier, faster, more exciting. You can add lyricist, arranger and educator to her resume, as well as award-winner: early in 2018, the ASCAP Foundation, in partnership with the Newport Jazz Festival, honored the Ypsilanti-based artist with the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award. When she isn’t teaching, writing her own solo work, or arranging music for her contemporaries, she also collaborates with A2-based ensemble Talking Ear.
A Newport Dream
“It was a dream come true,” said Cohen, to not only receive this honor along with an arts grant, but also the invitation to perform, last August, at the Newport Jazz Festival, along with venerated artists like Jon Batiste, Andra Day, George Clinton, and more. “I have expectations for what I want to achieve creatively, but I have taught myself not to expect any certain recognition. In the case of the ASCAP Foundation award, I had actually applied multiple times previously and faced rejection. But, you just have to keep moving. I think dwelling on what you “think you deserve” can lead to bitterness as an artist. Instead, I try to focus on the work. When I learned I was selected, I was surprised and overjoyed. My advice for any artist; put your work out there. You never know when you might reach someone.”
She embraces that philosophy of arcing forward as time continues to bend—not counting on anything, but instead focusing on the current project, the next project, and onward. It wound up being “Endings,” a live recording at Willis Sound, that tipped the scales of the judges toward Cohen.
Cohen has developed and diversified her skills to be able to work with a wide variety of styles, when it comes to composing or collaborating on an arrangement. She is best known in jazz circles, but her creative capacities blur past boundaries of genre categorization. For example, she recently scored the music for an adaptation of Sophocles’ ‘Antigone.’ With her fellow musicians/composers in Talking Ear, she’s joined a challenge that they’ve assigned themselves through their new podcast, “On Creating,” composing and recording a new original work each month.
Drawn To Jazz Energy
We asked her about jazz,“I first heard live jazz at Murphy’s Club in Toledo. I was drawn to the energy, but I didn’t understand it. It’s funny to remember not knowing whether I liked what I heard, because it was so unfamiliar to me. But, I had to keep coming back. I believe the more you listen, the more open you become; this is how I fell in love with the art-form.”
If you feel like you’re eager to fall in love with jazz, Cohen has a simple bit of advice. “Go out and actually see and experience live jazz! Go to Old Town Tavern on Wednesday nights, they have a wide rotating cast of really phenomenal jazz musicians. There’s Cliff Bell’s in Detroit and Aretha’s Jazz Café in Detroit, as well as Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti. “What’s special about Jazz is that you’re experiencing a unique moment in time. When you hear it in person, you’re a part of that moment.”
Cohen recently recorded a single with The Red Shoe Company string quartet that will be released later this year. She is currently working on her next album, and continues to perform and teach throughout the US.