Music Bio

Rob Cohen works as both a piano teacher and a professional pianist/keyboardist in and around New York City. He is based out of the neighborhood Greenpoint in Brooklyn. You can hear him play solo piano every Tuesday from 7 to 10 pm at the Manhattan Inn (right off the Nassau G stop in Greenpoint). For those subterranean travlers, you may get the privilege of hearing Rob play the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song (Luciano Michelini's "Frolic") on the platforms of New York's fine subway system. Rob also regularly performs in the city (above ground) with the African-inspired genre-bending group mamarazzi. Contact me if interested in hiring Rob for his unique talents.

Here is a brief list of my credentials, some of which are explained in more detail by the narrative below.

- several years of playing keyboards professionally (10 years and counting as of 2010)
- graduate of Wesleyan University with double major in Music and Mathematics
- studied jazz piano with Wesleyan's Fred Simmons and jazz ensemble under the instruction of Jay Hoggard, Tony Lombardozzi, and (then grad student) Taylor Ho Bynum
- studied Music history and theory with Wesleyan's esteemed composers, Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier
- studied pipe organ with Wesleyan's world-renowned organist, Ron Ebrecht
- awarded Honors by the Music Department for my 
thesis on Frank Zappa and Sun Ra as related to my own thoughts and compositions
- as a member of the American Guild of Organist, I was the "Minister of Music" for a year at Haddam Neck Congregational United Church of Christ and worked as a substitue organist in various churches throughout the Philadelphia area
- former math teacher/extra-curricular piano teacher at Brooklyn high school The Urban Assembly School of Music and Art
- alumni of the Philly Horn Band as keyboard player, arranger, and chart writer
- currently a part-time member of the party band Total Soul
- over 3 years (as of 2010) of teaching piano lessons in Brooklyn as a Steinway Educational Partner
- cocktail piano performer in and around New York City, including every Tuesday from 7 to 10pm
at the Manhattan Inn
- keyboard player/writer/arranger for Brooklyn's "mathrobeat"/afrobeat/funk/rock/jazz/hip hop consortium known to the world as mamarazzi
- composer/producer of original music showcased here on this very website/robsite

For the more curious, interested, or bored, I now present a fuller explanation of Musical events in the life of the entity called Rob E. Cohen...
It all started around 1992. My dad brought home a small Yamaha keyboard during the summer between my 2nd and 3rd grade years. If memory serves me correctly, the first thing I did with it was answer my dad's challenge to figure out "Mary Had a Little Lamb." After struggling intently for over an hour, I finally produced that elusive little melody on the white notes. So begins the tale of my musical genius...

Since those distant days, I have devoted a good portion of my life to Music in some form or other. My middle school days brought with them my formal introduction to Jazz* and Blues. I began studying jazz piano in private lessons and played in the school jazz  band (which earned me a few solo awards in various competitions). Along with some members of the school jazz band, I formed a jazz quartet (outrageously-so-named: The Quartet) and a classic rock cover band (Black Iron Bug).

As middle school faded into high school, The Quartet morphed into a  jazz
/funk/rock band, and I began writing music. Around this time,
rob playing piano
my dad began a wedding band (now called the Philly Horn Band). Rather than putting on a hair net and working in a kitchen like many of my friends, I accepted my dad's invitation to play keyboards in his band as my high school job. In addition to getting acquainted with the Top 40 Songbook of the 20th century, this experience also got me acquainted with the concept of Music as Work (a novel experience to juxtapose the Idealism and Romanticism that fueled my adolescence).

Then I went to college. A small liberal arts school in Connecticut called Wesleyan University finally relented and lifted its ivory gate to allow my admittance. The combined influence of my professors and new peer group (as well as my own exploration) over four years caused a flood of musical information to reach my ears and brain, resulting in the erosion of many artistic bigotries, prejudices, blockages, boundaries, misunderstandings, identifications, etc. While there remains plenty of Music that I would admit to "not enjoying," "not understanding," "disagreeing with," or even "disliking," I no longer conceive my objections in a dogmatic way that disallows/discourages others their potential enjoyment, understanding of, or agreement with that music. If I can credit any one individual with lifting me out of my intolerance more than others, I have to thank Wesleyan's resident genius, Anthony Braxton - a man of extraordinary accomplishment and enthusiasm who can shower praise and love upon "Great Masters" such as John Coltrane and Shirley Temple in the same breath.

My musical adventures in college were packaged in cute little names such as Asa's Sexual Fantasy, The Boxheads, The Implied Third Party Under Socialist States Yet-to-be, and Fecal Fun Bag. The common thread between these bands was the feeling of importance in the moment amongst the members and the equal unpopularity and irrelevance of these bands to most people outside of the groups (although there were the occasional successful public displays of our greatness). While these bands occupied different periods of my college experience, they involved many of the same faces.

When not engaged in musical pseudo-subterfuge, I was absorbing a great deal of information from the world of "Jazz." I studied jazz piano with Wesleyan's private teacher Fred Simmons, and I participated in the school's Jazz Orchestra (directed by Jay Hoggard) and the Jazz Ensemble (directed by Tony Lombardozzi). I further flexed my jazz muscles with a violinist partner-in-crime, frequently tackling compositions by the likes of Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus along with the host of other usual suspects in "The Real Book". Other forays into "straight music" consisted of a year-long stint with Wesleyan's student-run Salsa institution, Orquestra Fiebre, and two years making sense of the pipe organ with the help of my virtuosic mentor, Ron Ebrecht.

In the world of "not-so straight music", I learned a great deal by participating in Anthony Braxton's Creative Music Ensemble. This ensemble class introduced me to some of the fundamental mechanisms of Braxton's Music. I learned some of his system of Language Improvisation. I learned of his three-dimensional concept of the performance/interpretation of a score by an ensemble. On a more concrete level, I also got to see, read, and attempt to play some of his compositions from written scores. The rhythmic and intervallic complexity of some of those compositions has been since etched into my brain. At the time, I was almost completely overwhelmed by the impossibility of my executing what was on the page. Since then, I have had two potential insights into Braxton's intent for writing the "impossible". (1) The "impossible" is a forever-changing concept for the growing musician. Since embarking on composing and mastering the performance of the polyrhythmic piano etudes in my "Polymorphism" series, I have consistently surmounted the "impossible". (2) When confronted with the "impossibility" of the moment, the Musician engages in a spontaneous decision-making process. My past self in Braxton's ensemble most often chose to admit failure and stop playing. My real failure was in failing to recognize an opportunity to participate via approximation and improvisation based on the information in the score.

Still at Wesleyan, I was also emerging from my cocoon as a composer. Even though I had been "writing" music since my high school days, I had accumulated more in the way of fragments and skeletons than anything I was proud to call a "composition". There were a few songs here or there that I had either performed with bands or alone, but they felt somewhat amateur in construction to me. I used my senior year and the Music Major's required senior thesis/project concert as my compositional debut. Simultaneously, I drew from past inspiration and conjured up new material. Some compositions demonstrated the reworking and marriage of some of the aforementioned fragments and skeletons. Other compositions were entirely new. My thesis concert also involved transcriptions of compositions by Frank Zappa and Sun Ra, two major sources of Musical inspiration for me.
For more information about my thesis, click on the word that is eleven words before this word.

Four years since his graduation from Wesleyan in 2006 have seen the following developments in the Musician named Rob E. Cohen...

Still turning various musical tricks for money, I continue to grow as an interpreter and performer of popular music forms. Exercising and exorcising my musical creativity, I have continued to compose and decompose music for solo piano and for as-of-yet-nonexistent ensemble configurations. Various audiences in the NYC area have been exposed to my playing and writing through my involvement in the democratic "mathrobeat" organization named
mamarazzi (predominantly comprised of Wesleyan alumni). I have also had the pleasure of frequent collaborations with roommate, resident performer at the Jalopy Theater, and international youtube sensation: Isto. To celebrate the release of Isto's 10th CD, Let's Get Friendly, we debuted - among other collaborative musical efforts - our endless and playful composition entitled The Game.

In May of 2009, I released Pianoetriano/Poetrianoetry, an album of solo piano music and poetry, available for free download exclusively on this website.  In this album, I sought out to explore and experiment with different forms of "improvisationas derived from and integral to composition" and "composition as derived from and integral to improvisation." Despite that pretentious mission statement, this album contains numerous recognizable melodies, sonic evocations of sound effects and atmospheres, as well as treatments of a few Nintendo and TV theme songs. Also in this album, I unveil my first composition in an ongoing study of polyrhythmic piano etudes, "Polymorphism".

In addition to accumulating more and more compositions that range from the sophomoric and simple to the esoteric and complex, I have turned my efforts to a newly discovered form of composition that I call PuzzleSongs. PuzzleSongs are exactly what you would imagine: songs that present the listener with a puzzle to solve. It is my intent with these songs to offer both the musical and non-musical listener a more active level of engagement with the music. At the same time, this added level of engagement - while based on music - is of a non-musical nature. PuzzleSongs also provide the compositional challenges/options of converting existing puzzle formats into music or devising new puzzle formats allowable by the medium of music.

Yet another musical undertaking of mine has been inspired by Bela Barok's 
Mikrokosmos, a pedagogical collection of piano songs that progress in difficulty from the level of an absolute beginner to a level of significant technical complexity. My Pianoverse (I decided to pay homage to Bartok with my title) similarly seeks to enlighten the willing piano student in both the skills of reading music and in developing technical and intellectual Musical abilities. By organizing these works with a clear procedural logic (not unlike a Mathematical text), I challenge students of Pianoverse to anticipate my next moves and even create their own alternative directions. For it should be the goal of any teacher to empower his students enough for them to eventually discover the freedom of independent exploration.

To be continued as all things always...



*A note on "Jazz": Genre labels have caused Musicians a great deal of grief and 
aggravation since people started using them and Musicians started hearing them. Much of this undue confusion has been aptly summarized by Thelonious Monk: "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." Placing labels on music - while serving the necessary purpose of relating something new to another person -  results in a degradation of language through the necessarily incomplete and ambiguous definitions of genre names. So many Musicians object to the idea of genre (in my view at least) because creators of Music often see their work as an extension of themselves, a personalized extrusion into the public world. Reducing this offering to a simple word or phrase has the effect of categorizing the Musician as a person in a similarly reductive way. For the same reason that most INDIVIDUALS find it insulting to be lumped by somebody into a generalized "group" of people, most Musician INDIVIDUALS object to the same generalizations about their music. The fundamental problem with classification of people and music (and damn near everything else in the universe) with generalized labels involves an inappropriate ordering of our different levels of abstraction from given information. Rather than thinking in the order "perception of thing, generalizations based on perception, and connection of new generalizations to existing thought schematics", the GENREist thinks like a bigot in the order: "perception of thing, classification of thing based on perception, thoughts about category of classification, connection of thoughts about category of classification to this 'instance' or 'manifestation' of category."

Having addressed the problems inherent in genre classification of Music in general, allow me now to address the problems of classification as "Jazz" in particular (I say "allow me," but I suppose it's already typed whether or not you allow me. I should really be inviting you to allow yourself to continue reading my address.). As Jazz is an historically African American art form, part of the disgust with the label comes from the fact that white people named it. A great deal of wasted words and breath have gone into the debating of whether or not something is or is not Jazz, primarily based on the ill-defined concept of "swing". Many Music critics historically have defamed countless Master Musicians that they themselves have classified as "Jazz Musicians" for not "swinging" or not delivering the proper form of "Jazz" of which these critics "approve". The 
criticism first came precisely at those moments when the Master Musician began formulating an INDIVIDUAL music concept with new forms and mechanisms.

I will close this rant with words from the composer and saxophone virtuoso Anthony Braxton (and then some more of my own): 
"If I'm called a jazz musician, that means if I write an opera, it’s a ‘jazz opera’. If I go have a hamburger, it’s a ‘jazz hamburger’." Braxton, who does write operas and eat hamburgers, has played, has recorded, and can play "Jazz"; he can play his ass and your ears off. The hundreds, if not thousands, of compositions he has written, however, are Anthony Braxton - HIS conception of improvisation (a Language), HIS conception of space, HIS levels of meaning and abstraction, and the interpretation of these systems by the musicians he has played with. He has written and spoken thousands of words explaining and describing these systems. Once a Musician defines her/his own terms in relation to her/his Music, you do damage and insult by ignoring them and continuing to use your own. How much Braxton's Music relates to "Jazz" is about as significant as how much of his hamburger relates to "Jazz".