Estar Cohen is a young musician known for her unique vocal stylings, compositions and appearances at public venues in and around the Toledo area. Her parents, Allan and Donna Cohen, founded Happy Badger Cafe, which was a Bowling Green mainstay from 2000-2012. Her older brother Ben is a founding member of local experimental band Heavy Color. Currently a student at the University of Toledo, Cohen’s latest project, Waiting For Dawn, is a collaborative jazz album that includes many talented, local musicians.
Waiting for Dawn is a collaborative project, and there are several local musicians involved. How did the idea for this album come about?
When the band (Josh Silver, Travis Aukerman, Steve Knurek, and myself) had decided we wanted to set a recording date, we had been working together for a couple of years. We felt that it was time to document our musical process as an ensemble and put ourselves up to the challenge of capturing some of these compositions live in the studio. As a writer, I felt a desire to share some of my work with a larger audience, rather than being limited to sharing the music with only those who have the opportunity to hear the group at a live performance.
How did you choose your musicians for the album?
I have been fortunate to work closely with Josh, Travis, and Steve since the Estar Cohen Project first formed in 2012. As for the featured soloists on the album; I have the utmost respect for David Bixler, Ben Wolkins, Dan Palmer, and Corey Howe. Each of these musicians brought their unique personality to the music, and I was certain that I wanted their voices on those particular pieces. I am so grateful for their collaboration and I have certainly learned a lot by working with them.
You recorded at Big Sky in Ann Arbor. Was this a positive experience? Can you tell us a little bit about the recording process overall?
This being my first full length recording, I came out of the experience having learned a lot, and I believe this was the case with some of my bandmates as well. We had a limited budget which definitely made us think carefully about our methods and value our time. Our first session was about five hours long and in those five hours, we recorded each tune live two to three times. We wanted to capture a similar feeling to what we produce when we are playing a concert. After we chose the takes that would appear on the album, we made a decision to be quite minimalistic when it came to any layering or overdubs. A big realization that I came to was how much time and work goes into a thoughtful mixing and mastering of a project. As someone who is pursuing music professionally, I am so happy to have walked away with a plethora of new knowledge. Also, I am very thankful for our Kickstarter backers who lent us their financial support for the recording.
There are a lot of Jaco Pastorius-esque, sparse basslines on this album, and experimental chord work, but also traditional jazz and bop signatures. What are the major musical influences on Waiting for Dawn?
The major influences in my writing come from composers and poets who are great storytellers. A current songwriter in the modern jazz realm I pay close attention to is a vocalist/multi-instrumentalist named Becca Stevens. What I love about Becca is her ability to draw you into a different world through her lyrics and then illustrate that world through the music. This past year, I also came into the music of pianist and vocal duo Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee. Their recordings of the Jazz Standard Repertoire opened me up to entirely new meanings of the tunes I had previously thought I had a good understanding of. If a musician can really bring out different colors of a piece to demonstrate a particular mood, that can be very special. No matter what style I am drawing from when writing something new, I always strive to tell a compelling story.
Lyrics are heavily focused on time passing and loss. Can you talk about the inspiration for "The Good Life," "Dreamer," or the title track?
In 2012, I lost my mother Donna Cohen to a rare form of cancer. Coping with the loss of someone you truly love is a theme that is threaded delicately through the album. In The Good Life, we enter a world in which the song’s main character is in the very early aftermath of having lost a family member. As the story unfolds, we witness her make a rash decision in response to the stress that accumulates with the appearance of estranged family members, the expectations of her religious background, and her own revelations in response to the death. Dreamer is intentionally more abstract, and exists to lament the passing of time in hopes of finding a way to cope with its inevitability. The anxiety of the grieving process is especially apparent in Waiting For Dawn, a piece that is meant to explore the feelings often associated with utter restlessness. It isn’t until Praise that the lyrics demonstrate a sense of acceptance of significant loss, and thus a form of resolution. I intentionally placed Praise near the end of the album with the other three songs at the front because I believe that coming to understand the loss of a loved one is a journey that takes great time and often means journeying through darkness in order to find light.
What are your future plans? for The Estar Cohen Project?
Currently, the band is planning performances to promote the album and debut new music as well. Our official CD release party will be December 5 at the Toledo Museum of Art in the Glass Pavilion from 6:30-8:30pm.
The album is currently available for purchase by visiting my website, the Estar Cohen Project’s Bandcamp site, or sending an e-mail through my website to purchase a physical copy (which are of course available in person at shows).
See details on Waiting for Dawn and upcoming tour dates at estarcohenmusic.com. 6:30pm, Friday, December 5 at the Glass Pavilion (Toledo Museum of Art), 2445 Monroe St.; 8pm, Friday, December 19, Rocky’s Bar, 4020 Secor Rd.