Weekender

In his return to Penn State, jazz musician Emmet Cohen has learned from the legends

Saxophonist Houston Person will join the Emmet Cohen Trio Thursday for a concert at Schwab Auditorium.
Saxophonist Houston Person will join the Emmet Cohen Trio Thursday for a concert at Schwab Auditorium. Photo provided

Those who caught Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio at the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State last year have another chance to enjoy the musical stylings of the latter later this month. The Emmet Cohen Trio — made up of pianist Emmet Cohen, bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole — takes the stage alongside renowned jazz saxophonist Houston Person on Thursday at Schwab Auditorium.

The show is part of a larger project of Cohen’s, the Masters Legacy Series, a collaboration between Cohen and legendary jazz musicians that results in recordings, interviews and performances.

“I realized when I first moved to New York seven years ago that there’s this big disparity between the oldest generation of jazz musicians and the youngest serious working jazz musicians,” Cohen said. After meeting Jimmy Heath, “one of the greatest saxophone players of all time” at a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Cohen says was amazed at what the legend could share.

“I said, ‘Wow, I never learned any of this stuff in jazz school,’ ” Cohen said. “I realized how important that legacy was and it bought me to try to connect with as many of the jazz masters that I possibly could.”

For Cohen, jazz is a special medium in that it allows for cross-generational experiences in a way that other mediums do not. “It allows you to be creative with people of any generation, any culture, any age. ... It’s this incredible thing where you can find some common ground with any type of person — man, woman, gay, straight, old, young. ... Jazz is a way of finding common ground between people.”

Person, at 84 years old, has been repeatedly called “one of the best,” with a career that stretches across decades, though Cohen says his sounds still hold up for modern audiences.

The upcoming Schwab Auditorium performance will include collaborations between Person and the Emmet Cohen Trio, as they play an array of Great American Songbook selections, soul classics and original compositions.

“We’re going to put together a really awesome program that takes the past, present and future and puts them all together in one realm,” Cohen said.

“It’s going to be an awesome, soulful performance. I’m really looking forward to it. Any time I get to play with the jazz master, it’s awesome and we have a really good vibe together. ... If anyone went to the concert with Veronica Swift last year, it was an amazing experience and a powerful concert. ... (This show) will be in that vein, but it’ll be its own living organism, steeped in originality and soulfulness,” he said.

And if your experience with jazz music is limited, there’s no reason to be intimidated by an unfamiliar genre.

“This is music that speaks to people, it belongs to the people. It’s blues, it’s R&B, it’s funk, it’s all that American sound. There’s something in it for everyone. It’s not music where you have to think too hard. It’s music where you close your eyes and feel it to your core,” Cohen said.

Tickets for the Emmet Cohen Trio and Houston Person concert, taking place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, are available online at cpa.psu.edu or at Eisenhower Auditorium, Penn State Downtown Theatre Center or Bryce Jordan Center.

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