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Stanley Cowell, Eminent American Jazz Pianist, Dies At 79

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Stanley Cowell, the eminent American jazz pianist, educator, and co-founder of the groundbreaking jazz label, Strata-East Records, died from a situation referred to as hypovolemic shock in a Delaware hospital on December seventeenth. He was 79.

An modern and technically achieved pianist whose influences ranged from the virtuosic Artwork Tatum to the avant-garde iconoclast Cecil Taylor, Cowell patented a distinctly percussive strategy to the keyboard that acknowledged the jazz custom whereas propelling his music ahead into new and unexplored territory. Cowell served his musical apprenticeship taking part in with fashionable jazz icons like Max Roach, Miles Davis, and Stan Getz within the late 60s earlier than shortly blossoming right into a confident chief who cast an individualistic path in jazz that at all times sought to broaden the music’s horizons with out ignoring its blues roots.

“Stanley’s at all times been an inspiration as a result of he’s not a stagnant artist,” drummer Nasheet Waits, who performed stay with Cowell within the Nineteen Nineties, instructed Jazz Occasions in 2015. “He’s at all times exploring, developing with new methods to precise himself.”

Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1941, Stanley Cowell was introduced up in a household dedicated to music; although they weren’t skilled musicians, his dad and mom sang and performed musical devices and their enthusiasm rubbed off on younger Stanley, who took piano classes from the age of 4.

A pivotal second in his younger musical life got here in 1947, when he encountered a bona fide jazz piano legend, as he recalled to Jazz Information in 2015: “Artwork Tatum got here to my home as soon as after I was six years outdated. He was visiting household and associates and encountered my father, who invited him to our home.” Famend for his super-human-like virtuosity, Tatum would ultimately have a profound affect on Cowell however in his pre-teen years, the budding younger musician was extra drawn to blues and R&B music – acts like Muddy Waters and The Orioles – which he heard on his native radio station.

Jazz lastly got here on Cowell’s musical radar when he heard bebop for the primary time on the age of 13 however at the moment, classical music was his major focus and on graduating from highschool, he studied music at Oberlin Faculty. Afterward, in 1965, he studied for a masters diploma in piano efficiency on the College of Michigan. “I used to be immersed in learning piano, practising and learning classical music by day, however taking part in jazz by night time,” he recalled to Jazz Information in 2015.

Cowell first performed jazz professionally with the Ron Brooks Trio, whose earlier pianist had been future fusion pioneer, Bob James. At this level, Cowell – whose thoughts was blown after taking part in a gig with the blind multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk – was gravitating in direction of avant-garde jazz; attracted by the music’s daring experimentalism and freedom of expression.

On his commencement in 1966, Cowell left for New York to ply his commerce as a jazz pianist and was instantly employed by avant-garde alto saxophonist Marion Brown, with whom he recorded two albums in fast succession for the Impulse! label. Cowell’s skill to fuse his well-honed approach with a eager emotional intelligence and nuanced sense of tonal shade appeared well-suited to the Brown’s exploratory musical adventures.

A yr later, Cowell efficiently auditioned for drummer Max Roach’s quintet, the place he met trumpeter, Charles Tolliver, who would turn out to be his closest good friend and a longtime musical affiliate. Being in Roach’s band opened new doorways for the pianist; not solely did he play with Miles Davis and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson within the late 60s but additionally began his personal recording profession. It was throughout a visit to Europe in 1969 with Roach’s band that Cowell minimize his debut album in London referred to as Blues For The Viet Cong, a forward-looking trio session on which he performed each acoustic and electrical pianos.

After leaving Roach’s band in 1970, Cowell and Tolliver started their very own band, Music Inc, and once they couldn’t get any file labels occupied with their music, they determined to launch it themselves by way of their very own imprint, Strata-East; the label, which allowed its artists to maintain management of their grasp recordings, grew to become a priceless platform for black musicians throughout a time when jazz was struggling financially and main file offers have been arduous to seek out. “There was no artist underneath contract,” Tolliver instructed this author in 2020, explaining Strata-East’s ethos. “The deal was the file could be an settlement with us and the artist was free to file with whoever they wished to.”

Stanley Cowell recorded 5 albums for Strata-East – together with Handscapes, the place he fronted an adventurous keyboard-only band referred to as The Piano Choir – however later within the 70s launched into a radical change of musical path by embracing jazz-funk and taking part in synthesizers on a sequence of LPs for the Galaxy label. Cowell was additionally a lot in demand as a sideman, taking part in on albums by the Heath Brothers, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, and drummer Roy Haynes; his exercise was such that he left Tolliver to handle Strata-East. “I obtained so busy performing,” he instructed the Jazz Occasions in 2015, “I assumed that Strata-East was gonna run by itself.”

The pianist continued to make albums throughout the Nineteen Eighties however in the beginning of the last decade put acting on the again burner and took up a instructing publish at New York’s Lehman Faculty. Although he pursued a parallel profession in music training for the remainder of his life – he later taught at Rutgers College – Cowell remained a prolific recording artist whose creativity continued to blossom. Amongst his later tasks have been dalliances in experimental digital music and the primary of a number of orchestral works, “Piano Concerto No. 1,” which paid homage to the person he had met as a baby, Artwork Tatum.

Sadly, his last album, 2020’s Dwell At Keystone Nook Baltimore, recorded in October 2019, proved to be Cowell’s musical epitaph; a scintillating piano-playing showcase that navigated a sure-footedly unbiased path between the jazz custom and modernism.

Cowell’s distinctive voice on his instrument was eloquently summed up by famous up to date jazz pianist Jason Moran, who, reacting to the information of the pianist’s passing in a publish on Instagram, wrote: “Stanley invented pathways for the piano. Many occasions his two arms sounded as in the event that they have been six.”

Cowell, who lived in Maryland, leaves behind a spouse, Sylvia, and a daughter, Sunny.



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