Europe Jazz Network
|Ralph Towner was born in Washington state in 1940, moved to
Oregon at age five and grew ap there. He began to improvise at the piano
at age 5, imitating recordings from the WW II era. The Towner family were
all musicians, and instruments from the brass, string and woodwind groups
were all represented in the family orchestra. Ralph began formal study
on trumpet, and began playing in dixieland, swing and polka bands at age
seven. Although his mother was a piano teacher and church organist, he
declined to study the keyboard and continued as a self-taught pianist/improviser.
He studied classical composition at the University of Oregon, graduated in 1963 and went to Vienna, Austria to study classical guitar, an instrument he discovered in his fourth year of college. He studied for a year under the renowned Professor Karl Scheit, returned to the University of Oregon for graduate studies with professor Homer Keller, then returned for a second year of study in Vienna. He then moved to New York City in 1968 to continue his career as guitarist-pianist-composer in earnest. In 1980 he added the keyboard synthesizers to his instrumental arsenal.
Since 1970 he has recorded over thirty albums under his own name and has collaborated in concert and/or recording with Keith Jarrett, Weather Report (Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter), Egberto Gismonti, Gary Burton, John Abercrombie, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, Jan Hammer, Eddie Gomez, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Oregon, Paul Winter Consort, to mention a few.
He has won numerous awards, including two German Grammies (Deutsche Schallplatten Preis) for the best jazz recording of 1976 world-wide, (Solstice, with Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber, and John Christenson), and again in 1988 for Ecotopia with the group "Oregon" (Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, Trilok Gurtu), a U.S. Grammy nomination, the Downbeat magazine poll as guitarist, and the New York Jazz Award as best New York City acoustic guitarist among them. He has performed world-wide in Asia, Africa, South America, Eastern and Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Japan and North America; in jazz clubs and major concert halls such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Berlin Philharmonic Hall, Vienna's Mozartsaal, etc. Towner has recorded over one hundred of his instrumental compositions. His numerous orchestral compositions have been performed by the Stuttgart Opera Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the Freiburg Festival Orchestra. His recent symphony was commissioned and performed by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra and by the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has also published a book on improvisation and performance techniques for classical guitar, a solo suite for classical guitar, and composed and conducted a large work for string quartet, wind quartet and synthesizers commissioned by a grant from the AT&T-Rockfeller foundation. He recently completed a score for an Italian film, Un'altra Vita, by Carlo Mazzacurati.
His compositions have been used by various dance companies and choreographers including Alvin Ailey, Pilobolus and Murray Louis. He has composed the scores for various documentary films and was honored by Apollo astronauts who carried his music on cassette to the moon and officially named two moon craters after two of his compositions, "Icarus" and "Ghost Beads". His most recent record releases are: Always, Never, and Forever, with the group "Oregon" on Intuition Records; a new solo recording for ECM entitled Open Letter that includes Peter Erskine on percussion; and Oracle, a duet on ECM with bassist Gary Peacock.
Biography courtesy of Saudades Tourneen