Remembering Stanley Cowell

May 5, 1941 – December 17, 2020


A tribute to the powerful jazz pianist

Pianist Stanley Cowell passed away on December 17, 2020 at the age of 79.

He was born on May 5, 1941 in Toledo, Ohio.

He decided to become a pianist he watched Art Tatum (who also lived in Toledo at the time) play his father’s piano at their home.

Cowell graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory and earned a graduate degree from the University of Michigan.

After moving to New York in 1966, he immediately found work with altoist Marion Brown, performed with drummer Rashied Ali, and during 1967-70 was a member of Max Roach’s quintet.

Cowell made his first recording as a leader in 1969, toured with Miles Davis (which unfortunately was not recorded), and was a member of the Bobby Hutcherson-Harold Land quintet.

He became close friends with trumpeter Charles Tolliver, was a member of Tolliver’s big band Music Inc. and they co-founded and ran the Strata-East label for which he recorded in several settings.

Cowell led his own trio, was part of the seven-keyboard Piano Choir, worked with Art Pepper, J.J. Johnson, and the Heath Brothers, and taught at City University of New York’s Lehman College (1981-2000) and Rutgers (2001-13).

The pianist, who was influenced by McCoy Tyner but had his own style, remained active until shortly before his death.

Here is Stanley Cowell leading his quartet with saxophonist Bruce Williams, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Evan Sherman at Dizzy’s in 2017.

-Scott Yanow

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