Fellow: Awarded 2009
Field of Study: Music Composition
Competition: US & Canada
Pianist and composer Ryan Cohan is one of the leading jazz performers and composers working today. During his undergraduate years at DePaul University, he spent two summers at the prestigious and highly competitive Skidmore Jazz Institute, where he was named one of the Institute's first Blue Note Scholars, a scholarship established by Bruce Lundvall, President of Blue Note Records, to recognize outstanding young jazz musicians. Subsequently, he was invited back to the Institute as an adjunct teacher, then full faculty member, and finally as a distinguished guest artist. He has also been the assistant director of small and large jazz ensembles at the University of Illinois at Chicago and continues to work as a jazz artist clinician at universities and high schools throughout the U.S. and abroad.
On receiving his B.M. degree in jazz performance from DePaul in 1993 where he studied with pianist Larry Novak, Ryan Cohan began independent orchestration study with Cliff Colnot and further improvisation study with David Bloom. Concurrently, he was making his mark on the Chicago music scene, playing with the city's top musicians. He has been a longtime member of Orbert Davis's various ensembles, including the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, and he has performed with such luminaries as Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Paquito D'Rivera, Jon Faddis, Andy Narell, Regina Carter, Michal Urbaniak, among many others. His virtuosity led to his becoming the music director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project in 2001, where, among other projects, his original compositions were partnered with Diane "Lady Di" Walker's tap dance choreography.
During these years, Mr. Cohan produced three albums of all original compositions, to rave reviews. Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and some of Chicago's most notable improvisers joined him on Real World (Real World Music, 1997), and his second release, Here and Now (2001), not only earned him unanimous praise from critics here and abroad, but landed him a record deal with Sirocco Jazz (UK) and jump-started his global touring career, taking him and the ensemble he had founded to prominent international jazz venues. His release of One Sky (Motéma Records, 2007) was hailed as one of the best recordings of the year by the Chicago Tribune and many other journals; DownBeat deemed him "a master of three horn writing." Written with the support of 2005 New Works grant from Chamber Music America, One Sky: Tone Poems for Humanity was premiered at the Skidmore Jazz Institute. In 2008, he received Chamber Music America's Encore Award, which will support more performances of One Sky, at Northeastern Illinois University and at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City. Also in 2008, Ryan Cohan was again awarded the New Works grant from Chamber Music America to compose an original extended work for his sextet inspired by his recent tour of Africa.
Beginning in 1997, Ryan Cohan also wrote extensively for and toured with NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis, contributing more than twelve pieces to several of Mr. Lewis's albums, including Dance of the Soul (GRP, 1998), Appassionata (Narada Jazz, 1999), Meant to Be (Narada Jazz, 2002), The Very Best of Ramsey Lewis (GRP, 2006), and the theme music to Mr. Lewis's nationally syndicated television show, The Legends of Jazz (2006). He also composed orchestral scores for films, including Dog Walker (2002) and Tapioca (2008); his music for the latter was nominated for "best impact of music in a full-length feature film" at the Park City Music Festival.
In 2007, the Ryan Cohan Quartet was one of only six groups to win a place in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Musical Ambassador program, which is cosponsored by the U.S. Department of State. As part of the award, his quartet not only performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., but toured Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Jordan. Having won again this year, the Ryan Cohan Quartet toured Eastern Europe.
In addition to his Guggenheim Fellowship, Ryan Cohan has been honored with two Illinois Arts Council Fellowships and three City of Chicago Community Assisted Arts Program grants.
His fourth CD, the first featuring his working trio and quartet, will be released by Motéma Music in early 2010.
Profile photograph by Jennifer Girard.