Obituary: Stanley Cowell, jazz/classical fusion pianist, composer, and pedagogue, 79

Posted on: January 7, 2021

“A piano technique that could embrace ragtime, boogie, Art Tatum’s dazzling virtuosity, Thelonious Monk’s terseness, post-1960s free-jazz and experimental electronics ought to have been enough to make the American pianist Stanley Cowell a major jazz star—even if he had never extended those talents into adventurous composition, an illustrious teaching career, and a founding role in one of the most successful African-American-run record labels [Strata-East] of the 20th century,” writes John Fordham in Tuesday’s (1/5) Guardian (U.K.). “Yet Cowell, who has died aged 79, was an innovator who remained under the radar…. He worked with the multi-reeds phenomenon Rahsaan Roland Kirk while attending Oberlin College in Ohio in 1962, and had subsequent partnerships with the free-jazz saxophonist Marion Brown and the bebop-pioneering drummer Max Roach…. His composing increasingly stretched toward jazz and classical fusions, alongside a burgeoning teaching career at Lehman College in New York (1988-99) and the New England Conservatory (1988-89) until his retirement from Rutgers University in 2013…. [He began] classical piano lessons from the age of four…. He performed Dmitry Kabalevsky’s Piano Concerto No 3 with the Toledo Youth Orchestra at 15…. He composed some large-scale original works, including his Tatum-dedicated Piano Concerto No 1, which was premiered in 1992 by the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.”