Ralph Towner plays for Jazz at Holmes Oct. 27

‘Guitarist’s guitarist’ also subject of Oct. 26 symposium

Legendary guitarist Ralph Towner is one of the finest improvisers in modern jazz and one of the few to specialize in acoustic guitar.


Among the first artists signed to ECM Records — arguably the most influential jazz label of the last 40 years — Towner has earned critical acclaim as a solo artist; as a guitarist, keyboardist and lead composer for the acoustic jazz ensemble Oregon; and for his collaborations with artists such as Gary Burton, John Abercrombie and Keith Jarrett.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, Towner will present an evening of both standards and original music for Washington University’s Jazz at Holmes Series.

The performance is free and open to the public and takes place in Holmes Lounge, Ridgley Hall.

In addition, Towner, will take part in “The Music of Ralph Towner and The ECM Movement,” a free symposium exploring both his own work and the music of other artists associated with ECM Records.

Co-sponsored by Jazz at Holmes, the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences and music’s Jazz Studies program, the symposium will begin at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, in Graham Chapel.

William Lenihan, director of jazz performance and instructor in guitar and jazz theory, will lead the presentation, with assistance from Patrick Burke, associate professor of music, and Steve Schenkel, professor of music at Webster University.

“Ralph Towner is a consummate jazz musician but also is trained in classical music — a guitarist’s guitarist,” Lenihan says. “In the jazz world, he is known as the principal improviser on the acoustic guitar. Having come to the New York scene as both a Bill Evans-inspired pianist and classical guitarist, he developed a piano-like approach to the classical guitar.”

Born in 1940 to a musical family in Chehalis, Wash., Towner learned piano and trumpet as a child and later studied composition at the University of Oregon. In the early 1960s, he bought a classical guitar on a lark but was quickly entranced and soon decamped for Vienna to study classical guitar with Karl Scheit.

In 1968, Towner moved to New York City and immersed himself in the jazz scene, eventually landing a spot with the Paul Winter Consort. Indeed, it was Winter who gave Towner his first 12-string guitar — the instrument with which he is today popularly identified. Towner also developed close friendships with Glen Moore, Paul McCandless and Collin Walcott, with whom he went on to form Oregon.

Over the years, Towner has released more than two-dozen recordings with Oregon, most recently In Stride (2010). He also has released more than a dozen solo albums, including the recent Chiaroscuro (2009), a duo recording with Italian jazz trumpet virtuoso, Paolo Fresu.

For more information about either the performance or the symposium, email wlenihan@wustl.edu.

Jazz at Holmes

Founded in 1996, Jazz at Holmes features professional jazz musicians from around St. Louis and abroad performing in Holmes Lounge — a casual, coffeehouse-style setting — most Thursday evenings throughout the fall and spring semesters.

Jazz at Holmes is sponsored by the College of Arts & Sciences, Office of Residential Life, Student Union, University College and Summer School in Arts & Sciences, Congress of the South 40, Department of Music, Greek Life Office, Community Service Office, Campus Life, Danforth University Center & Event Management, and Office of Student Involvement and Leadership.