“A polished, engaging pianist; a rare convergence of technique, emotion and soul”
- Richard Crawford, Director, American Music Institute
Ellen Rowe has been described as “that rare ‘triple threat’ of pianist, composer-arranger, and teacher” (Ken Keuffel, Arizona Daily Star), a title that for many years kept her too busy to release a CD under her own name. That situation has been rectified with the releases of “Sylvan Way”, (2000) a trio CD combining jazz standards with original compositions that “soar with emotion and expression” (Denis Naranjo, WFBE), and “Denali Pass” (2004), a quartet CD that has been described as a “beautifully balanced and inspired journey, that showcases her abilities as a strong conceptualist pianist and band leader” by pianist Geri Allen and released in 2004. Her most recent CD, “Wishing Well”, with special guest Ingrid Jensen, was just released in January of 2010 on PKO Records. Ken Franckling of Jazz Times wrote “This is a gem in every respect, revealing much to savor on every track.”
Born in Ridgefield, Connecticut to musician parents, Ellen started 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 jazz more seriously, she embarked on her first formal piano lessons with jazz pianist and pedagogue John Mehegan. “I was so fortunate to be able to work with John - he was the real deal. Getting to listen to Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Horace Silver when you are 14 has an extremely powerful impact on you.”
After working with Mehegan for 4 years, she entered the Eastman School of Music, continuing to study jazz with Bill Dobbins and Rayburn Wright. It was at Eastman where she had her first significant professional success, winning the Kansas City Womens’ Jazz Festival Combo Competition with her jazz quintet “Joyspring” and subsequently performing at that festival as well as in New York City. She also got her first professional arranging experience, writing orchestral features for Marian McPartland and Gene Bertoncini and big band features for Red Mitchell and Bob Brookmeyer.
Ms. Rowe has performed at jazz clubs, festivals and concert halls throughout the United States, Europe and Australia and has had the honor of appearing on Marian McPartland’s acclaimed NPR show "Piano Jazz" twice. In addition to leading her own trio and quartet, she is in great demand as a sideman, having performed with a variety of artists including Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen, John Clayton, Tom Harrell, Frank Morgan, Steve Turre and Jiggs Whigham. In keeping with the eclectic nature of her earliest musical influences, she has also continued to perform classically, recently performing the Stravinsky Piano Concerto with the University of Michigan Wind Ensemble. Her three CDs as a leader have received extensive airplay and critical acclaim.
Her compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by jazz ensembles and orchestras around the world, including the Village Vanguard Orchestra, BBC Jazz Orchestra, U.S. Navy Commodores, Berlin Radio Jazz Orchestra and DIVA. Her big band compositions are published by Sierra Music Publications.
Ms. Rowe is currently on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, where she is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation and Director of the University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble.