3 September 2015


I have said before that Shaye Cohn's playing reminds me of Mozart. In particular, it makes me think of the viola part in Mozart's string quartets.
Here's why. Mozart's quartets are like lively interesting well-informed conversations between four intelligent and sympathetic friends. If you study the viola's rôle in a Mozart string quartet, what do you discover? 
Extract from a Mozart String Quartet
 - highlighting the Viola's rôle.
The viola sometimes takes the lead (playing the melody, you could say) but more often you find it responding, commenting cleverly and perceptively on the remarks of the others, coming up with surprising original thoughts, sparkling and witty, or sad, sympathetic and pensive as the occasion demands. It can play very quickly, producing a lot of notes rapidly when there is something exciting to say. But the viola does not show off or attempt to dominate. It both compliments and complements the contributions of the other instruments.
Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Shaye's playing in any jazz ensemble is exactly like that. She is not a showy player. Not from her will you hear those screaming, raucous, high-note 32-bar solo choruses to which so many traditional jazz trumpeters resort (though she easily plays notes such as A5 [SPN] when the melody requires - as in Variety Stomp and Dallas Rag). One of my readers emailed me to say he watches her solos 'with anticipation. What comes next? Her playing is so unpredictable'. I know exactly what he means. The rest of us can play corny cliché-ridden improvisations but Shaye seems effortlessly to come up with phrases that are magical and stunning in their originality.

She is so energetic in her playing and her thinking. One of my regular correspondents - Lou in the USA - has twice sent me emails in praise of Shaye; and they are worth quoting:
I couldn't agree with you more. I find myself more and more separating her horn from the rest of the piece. I've discovered that she has a very versatile tongue. One just knows that she doesn't have to think about what's coming next for her. She may think ahead for the arrangement, but her playing just flows naturally. I can hear the little notes she drops here and there that she just has to do because they belong. 
I marvel at her stamina in numbers like 'Weary Blues'. She just blows her heart out, all in such a matter of fact way.
think Lou is absolutely right.

Shaye produces a unique tone that perfectly encapsulates the blues feeling that is at the heart of so much of our music. Listen closely to her busy fluent phrases, often muted and in the background, interwoven brilliantly into the polyphony of her band's wonderful music. That's why I am reminded of the viola in Mozart's string quartets.

Shaye has an instinctive understanding of rhythmic possibilities, subtle and surprising harmonies and progressions, even when improvising at high speed. She can 'bend' notes to great effect and in exactly the right places.

She always works hard to encourage great teamwork from the band, not just to display her own skills. Her playing takes account of (and usually directs) all that is going on around her.

Bearing in mind that she is not only brilliant on the cornet but is also one of the very best on the piano and violin (and is an arranger and a formidable composer - just think of Pyramid Strut and Tangled Blues, for example), I have to say I have not come across a traditional jazz musician who impresses me more than Shaye. She is simply the best.