Columbia University in the City of New York

Acclaimed Jazz Musician Begins Residency with Zuckerman Institute Scientists

Anat Cohen (right), the 2023-2024 Jazz Artist-in-Residence at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute, performing with guitarist Marcello Gonçalves (left). (Credit: Charles Choi, Zuckerman Institute)

NEW YORK, NY — Art and science are frequently intertwined at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute. That pairing was on full display earlier this month when Grammy-nominated clarinetist Anat Cohen, the institute’s 2023–2024 Jazz Artist-in-Residence, treated a rapt audience to a virtuoso performance at the Greene Science Center. 

In between vibrant songs, Cohen talked about the intersections she sees between her music and neuroscience, especially when it came to building community.
An audience of scientists, as well as neighbors from the local Harlem community and members of the broader Columbia campuses, attended the event.

“Why we have a brain in the first place is mainly for social reasons,” said one of the hosts, Michael N. Shadlen, MD, PhD, a Zuckerman Institute principal investigator. “We’re here now to celebrate what we do cognitively in science and what we do cognitively in life. And there’s no better statement of that than what jazz musicians do together on the fly,” added Dr. Shadlen, who is also a professor of neuroscience at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

The first three songs that Cohen and Brazilian guitarist Marcello Gonçalves played were arrangements of songs from "Coisas," a 1965 album by renowned Brazilian jazz composer Moacir Santos. The New York Times described the album as "one of the great accomplishments of modern Brazilian music."

Cohen discussed how music could forge deep connections, highlighting an experience when music was a bridge during a performance when she didn’t speak the same language as her fellow musicians. 

“I knew no Spanish. We couldn't communicate with language. But on stage, with a bunch of musicians playing music, we understood each other," Cohen said. "That mystery of how we can express our emotions through music, and how we can tell each other what we want without words, is a challenge and a gift.”

The Jazz Artist-in-Residence program was established in 2019 to sponsor musicians for a period of engagement, inspiration and discovery at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute. The artists in the program have been top in their fields. “Ms. Cohen on the clarinet was a revelation,” a New York Times critic wrote in 2013. The evident regard that the audience gave Cohen at the Zuckerman performance reflected this glowing appraisal. 

Just as Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute is creating a spirited community in neuroscience, so too did Cohen discover a sense of togetherness in Brazil and its music. ”Sometimes people get a lot in their own head,"Cohen said. "In Brazil, music brings people together. I want that. I want to figure out how music brings everyone together."

"Being a jazz musician is a funny thing,” Cohen said toward the end of the performance, noting that a roomful of neuroscientists is likely to understand why. “You search for an idea and you don't even know what it is. It’s like searching for a sound that maybe you've never heard.”


Anat Cohen’s residency is hosted by Dr. Shadlen, with support from Chris Washburne, PhD, a professor and Chair of the Music Department at Columbia University.

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