Primary Instrument: Piano
Ellen Rowe has been described as that rare ‘triple threat’ of pianist, composer-arranger, and teacher (Arizona Daily Star), a title that until recently kept her too busy to actually record an album under her own name. That situation has been thankfully rectified with the recent debut release of Sylvan Way, a dynamic work that combines standards and intriguing original compositions that soar with emotion and expression. Bassist Rufus Reid states Ellen Rowe has produced an excellent recording that showcases her immense talents as a composer and pianist. This CD definitely invites repeated listening. Enjoy Sylvan Way, as I have.
Ms. Rowe has performed at various jazz clubs and concert halls throughout the United States and has toured many parts of Europe and Australia. She has had the honor of appearing on Marian McPartland’s acclaimed NPR show Piano Jazz twice, with the most recent taping due to air in the spring of 2003. In 1991 the Ellen Rowe Trio garnered first place in the Hartford CT Advocate Readers’ Poll for Best Acoustic Jazz. In addition to leading her own trio and quartet, she is in great demand as a sideman, performing with a variety of artists including Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen, John Clayton, Tom Harrell and Jiggs Whigham. In keeping with the eclectic nature of her earliest musical influences, Ms. Rowe also continues to play classically, recently performing the Stravinsky Piano Concerto with the University of Michigan Wind Ensemble.
Her compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by a wide variety of jazz ensembles and orchestras around the world, including the legendary Village Vanguard Orchestra, the BBC Jazz Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Commodores, the Berlin Radio Jazz Orchestra and the big band DIVA. Her big band compositions are currently published by Sierra Music Publications.
Born in Ridgefield, Connecticut to musician parents, Ms. Rowe began playing the piano by ear when she was 4. Being constantly surrounded by wonderful music in the house was an incredible gift, she says. I was hearing everything from Brahms trios and Beethoven symphonies to English folk music, musicals, the Beatles and Dave Brubeck. Informed by her high school band director that she could not play in the school’s jazz band unless she started to study the art form more seriously, she embarked on her first formal piano lessons with jazz pianist and pedagogue John Mehegan. She comments, I was so fortunate to be able to work with John. He had been a part of the New York scene in the ‘40s and ‘50s and was one of the very first people to put together a methodical approach to studying improvisation. Becoming aware of and listening to such jazz luminaries as Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Horace Silver at the age of 14 had an extremely powerful impact on the young pianist.
After working with Mehegan for four years, she entered the Eastman School of Music in 1976, where she continued her studies with Bill Dobbins and Rayburn Wright. While attending Eastman she had her first significant professional success, winning the Kansas City Womens’ Jazz Festival Combo Competition with her jazz quintet Joyspring. The group subsequently performed at that festival as well as at the New York City Womens’ Jazz Festival. The Kansas City Star reviewed the performance and praised Ms. Rowe as a gifted composer and pianist who can move with ease from thumb-popping funk to straight ahead bebop. It was during this time period that she also acquired her first professional arranging experience, writing orchestral features for Marian McPartland and Gene Bertoncini as well as big band features for Red Mitchell and Bob Brookmeyer.
Ms. Rowe is currently on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, where she is Associate Professor of Jazz Piano and directs the University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble. Her music resounds at once with melodic depth and compelling intensity, defining Ellen Rowe as a formidable talent poised to take her place among the top jazz artists of today.
The Ellen Rowe Quartet Performance at the International Association for Jazz Education conference was spellbinding. These Ann Arbor musicians are world class and held their own with all the national names. - Linda Yohn, Music Director, WEMU radio
Ellen Rowe's new release [Denali Pass] is a beautifully balanced and inspired journey, that showcases her abilities as a strong conceptualist pianist and band leader. Everyone contributes exciting performances throughout. - Geri Allen
Her five original pieces soar with emotion and expression. - Dennis Naranjo, WFBE, Flint MI Rowe's soloing is both entertaining and exciting. - Lee Prosser, www.jazzreview.com
Sylvan Way is a straight-ahead album of aural solace in the musical jungle. Rowe manifests a hardy command of the instrument, dropping solid phrases in the pocket and giving her notes added weight by using something oft lacking in even the best players: space. Rowe renderings like The Phoenix....reveal a composer who lets her melodies come forth with unadorned ease, as natural as if she were skipping flat stones across a pond. - Christopher Bahnsen, Currents, February 2002
Ellen Rowe has produced an excellent recording, Sylvan Way, that showcases her immense talents as a composer and pianist. Ellen's original creations possess lyricism and harmonic surprises that take no back seat next to the standard material presented. The program is nicely balanced with swinging tunes, Latin flavors and caresses the listener with lush romantic moods. Ellen assembles three excellent rhythm sections with one horn to accompany her. Stellar bassist John Clayton, is featured with his bow on Rowe's hauntingly beautiful ballad, Hymn. This CD definitely invites repeated listening. Enjoy, Sylvan Way, as I have. Bravo, Ms. Rowe! - Rufus Reid
A polished, engaging pianist; a rare convergence of technique, emotion and soul. - Richard Crawford, Director, American Music Institute
She phrases with quiet authority, letting rich and beguiling harmonies develop gradually.
She is indeed that rare ‘triple threat’ of pianist, composer-arranger, and teacher...the best possible role model for young women trying to make it in jazz. - Ken Keuffel, Arizona Daily Star
...a gifted composer who can move with ease from thumb-popping funk to straight-ahead be-bop. - Kansas City Star
...as soon as she began to improvise, the effect was indescribably melodic. The audience was entranced; you could hear a pin drop. - Die Oberlander (Switzerland)