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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now to music and Chris Douridas. He's a deejay and host of "New Ground" on member station KCRW in Santa Monica. And he brings new artists to us here at DAY TO DAY from time to time. Here he is presenting jazz musician Avishai Cohen.

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CHRIS DOURIDAS reporting:

When I first heard the music of Avishai Cohen, I heard him as a pianist. It was an album called "Unity" that he has conceived as a prayer for peace for his native Israel. I remember being captivated by his music even then. I only found out later that he was experimenting, wanting to experience leading his band from a different vantage point. Avishai, I learned, was a bassist.

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DOURIDAS: Born and raised in Jerusalem, Avishai grew up listening to Beethoven, Bach and Mozart from his mother's record collection.

Mr. AVISHAI COHEN (Jazz Musician): She would always listen to a lot of classical music or any other kind of music like influences by Mediterranean music and her music from home, which is ladino, that has to due with Spain and Arab countries.

DOURIDAS: It wasn't until his parents moved the family to the States for two years that his mind was expanded. It was in St. Louis that his new young friends turned him onto jazz, rock and the electric bass.

Mr. COHEN: Like any other kid, I started by playing "Smoke on the Water." And from that, it developed into listening to Jaco Pastorius, the bass genius. I remember just practicing his music for hours every day.

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DOURIDAS: Jaco Pastorius; he is the Jimi Hendrix of the bass. And like Jimi, he died a tragically young death and left behind a legendary imprint and a legion of followers.

Let's jump ahead six years. It's 1992 and Avishai is in New York with acoustic bass in tow, juggling stints in construction and moving furniture just to make ends meet. Soon he fell into the city's inner circle of jazz players. Not long after, he was wowing audiences as Chick Corea's bassist and recording his first album as leader on Chick's record label. That was six albums ago. His latest, an album called "At Home," finds him composing perhaps his most lyrical piece yet, a song called "Remembering."

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Mr. COHEN: When I compose, I usually go to the piano and craft these melodies that are derived from a lot of that classical influence and some Eastern European influence of melody that's around Israel.

DOURIDAS: It's not the first time Middle Eastern themes have been explored in jazz. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef and Keith Jarrett did, just to name a few. But for Avishai, it's his life's work to throw the rhythms and recollections of his youth into the welcoming arms of the jazz idiom. I, for one, hear unflinching optimism and tremendous beauty in it. A great example, "Mediterranean Sun."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. COHEN: I composed the baseline on the bass first and then thought of a melody that would be sang or like played by two beautiful instruments. One is the alto flute and one is the flugelhorn. And those three instruments presenting this melody is a pure sound. You hear a lot of air and space. The whole vibe of the piece has, I think, an Israeli or Mediterranean thing to it.

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DOURIDAS: Jazz historically may be an American art form, but by definition it's open to redefinition as long as its practitioners bring with them the joy of free expression and the passion for what is possible.

Mr. COHEN: I always had this attraction to improvised music. It's a theme, and then you're expressing yourself about that theme. And for me, that's a very high level of communication that couldn't be missed. I think it's a part of me. And when we're on stage and when we do that, every night that you will come to hear the band, it will be different. And that's a great way to live life for me.

DOURIDAS: For NPR News. I'm Chris Douridas.

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CHADWICK: And more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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