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Ellen Rowe Quartet | Wishing Well

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Wishing Well

by Ellen Rowe Quartet

Small group jazz with original music and performances that feature rich lyricism, emotional honesty, and deep musicianship.
Genre: Jazz: Mainstream Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. For That Which Was Living, Lost
9:26 $0.99
2. Lewisburg Bluesy-oo
6:19 $0.99
3. Night Sounds
7:17 $0.99
4. Tick Tock
5:37 $0.99
5. Longing
6:06 $0.99
6. Sanity Clause
7:39 $0.99
7. Wishing Well
5:42 $0.99
8. Seven Steps To My Yard
6:13 $0.99
9. For Donald
7:39 $0.99
10. Alone Together
8:10 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

“...a gifted composer who can move with ease from thumb-popping funk to straight-ahead be-bop.”
—Kansas City Star

“...as soon as she began to improvise, the effect was indescribably melodic. The audience was entranced; you could hear a pin drop.” —Die Oberlander (Switzerland)

Wishing Well wears its sophistication lightly. Pianist Ellen Rowe and her quartet featuring saxophonist Andrew Bishop, bassist Kurt Krahnke, and drummer Pete Siers don’t shout for your attention, they earn it through their disarming lyricism, emotional honesty, and deep musicianship. The quartet is joined on their sophomore release by Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn, and Andy Haefner on tenor saxophone. They don’t play with any superficial flash, but don’t let these seemingly effortless performances deceive you—craftsmanship, close listening, hard work, and artistry lie behind every note. The CD will be released on April XX on PKO Records.

Rowe’s writing and arranging make the most of the small group sound, letting different instruments introduce tunes, deploying different combinations of instruments to deliberately build drama, and voicing the instruments to achieve a big, full sound. Her arrangement of the Dietz and Schwartz standard “Alone Together” features a catchy vamp and harmonies that darken and lighten the mood of the tune. An exceptionally inventive and playful “Seven Steps to My Yard” conflates two well-known jazz standards and sets up a variety of ways to showcase the versatility of drummer Siers. Her compositions hide their complexities behind gorgeous melodies. Compositions such as “Longing,” “Wishing Well,” and “For Donald” feature deeply affecting melodies buttressed by richly inventive chord changes. “Tick Tock” is full of treacherous stop-start phrases, but its soulful melody and relaxed execution by the quartet make it an especially joyful tune. The sensitive and balanced performances highlight their beauty even as the musicians glory in their musical challenges.

Rowe is also an exceptionally lyrical soloist, with a translucent, delicately colored sound and a nuanced touch. On the title track, each phrase seems to lead logically to the next, there’s a continuous melodic thread running through the improvisation that holds it together in a carefully wrought whole. She makes telling use of blues sonorities to give her airy one-hand lines on “Sanity Clause” extra weight and earthiness. On “Seven Steps to My Yard,” she uncoils long, flowing bebop lines punctuated by left-hand chords. “Night Sounds,” a touching tribute to Rowe’s late brother, uses Latin rhythms, chiming chords, and introverted lyricism to create a poignant, emotionally complex solo that is heartbreaking, beautiful, and hopeful all at once. Her intelligence and wit shine through on “Alone Together” in her elliptical, contrapuntal dueting with Bishop.

The quartet clearly relishes playing together, having honed their group sound and deepened their interplay since Rowe brought them together in 2002. Bishop, a composer and bandleader himself, is a veteran of groups led by musicians as diverse as Ray Charles and John Zorn. On “Night Sounds” he plays with composerly focus, with each of his phrases occupying its proper place in the story he tells with his horn. He makes effective use of space and sound in his solo on “Sanity Clause.” Krahnke, a versatile bassist who has performed with Joe Henderson, Sonny Fortune, Jimmy Guiffre, Leon Thomas, and the J.C. Heard Orchestra, is a resourceful presence in the band. His solo on “For That Which Was Living, Lost” is a concise and poetic statement without a wasted note in it. He takes great rhythmic and melodic freedom behind Bishop and Siers on “Sanity Clause,” adding a freer element to the tune’s rocking groove. But he can also nail the beat, as he does on the sprightly “Lewisburg Bluesy-oo” and during the uptempo passages on “Seven Steps to My Yard.” Drummer Siers fronts his own groups and performed with the likes of Russell Malone, Lee Konitz, and James Moody. “Seven Steps to My Yard” is a splendid feature for his many talents, on which he plays drum breaks in the tune, trades eight-bar phrases with Rowe and Bishop, and drives the band with his strong but gentle cymbal work. A consummate group player who always pays attention to dynamics, knows when to lay back and let a soloist go and when to provide supportive fills and accents, Siers solos with swinging verve on “Tick Tock.” Special mention should also be made of the quartet’s guests. Ingrid Jensen adds her intimate flugelhorn sound and distinctive lyrical flair to “For That Which Was Living, Lost” and “Longing.” Andy Haefner’s warm, inventive tenor saxophone solo pays tribute to a former teacher, Donald Walden, on Rowe’s lovely “For Donald.”

Ellen Rowe is “a polished, engaging pianist; a rare convergence of technique, emotion and soul,” according to Richard Crawford, director of the American Music Institute. Born in Ridgefield, Connecticut, to musician parents, Ms. Rowe began playing the piano by ear when she was 4. While still in high school, she studied with jazz pianist John Mehegan. In 1976, she entered the Eastman School of Music, winning the Kansas City Womens’ Jazz Festival Combo Competition with her quintet, Joyspring, while still a student.

Her 2001 CD debut as a leader, Sylvan Way featured trios that included Siers and Bishop, as well as bassist John Clayton and drummer Joe LaBarbera. Bassist Rufus Reid observed that the album is “nicely balanced with swinging tunes and Latin flavors, and caresses the listener with lush, romantic moods.” Her quartet made its recorded debut in 2005 on Denali Pass. Pianist Geri Allen called it an “inspired journey that showcases her abilities as a strong conceptual pianist and band leader.” She has also performed with Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen, Tom Harrell, among others, and has appeared twice on Marion McPartland’s acclaimed NPR show, “Piano Jazz.” She is currently on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music.

An avid runner who has participated in the Boston and New York Marathons, Rowe is also a mountain climber who has successfully scaled Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, and Alaska’s Denali, the highest mountain in North America. “I love challenges,” she says. “Challenges add discipline and focus to my life, whether it is running a marathon, climbing a mountain, writing a jazz ensemble arrangement or trying to get an album together. The aspect of teamwork on a mountain climb definitely has a parallel to playing in a small jazz group. I actually like comping even more than soloing, so I guess there is a comparison there.”

The parallels are striking. The Ellen Rowe Quartet displays the teamwork, discipline, love of a good challenge, and an appreciation for beauty in all forms that make Wishing Well one of the most satisfying releases of the year.

Album Liner Notes:

The title track of this album, “Wishing Well” was written 8 years ago during a residency at the Leighton Artists Colony in Banff, Canada. I had set out to write a dreamy, meditative piece and while rooting around for a title, conjured up the idea of sultry and exotic locales where magical elements would conspire and wishes would be granted. It occurred to me that an actual wishing well would probably not exist in such a location, but alliteration had me firmly in its grasp and triumphed over common sense. Eight years later, however, the title has taken on a slightly different meaning. While working on these liner notes I was reunited with several wonderful friends, one of whom rekindled my nascent interest in Buddhism. While rummaging around the internet looking for particular books he had recommended, I came across this bit of information from Buddhist scholar Lama Surya Das: “The first arm of Buddhist love is maitri or lovingkindness, a boundless feeling of friendliness and wishing well for others.” While perhaps not what I had originally intended, the new meaning reflects a way of living that I aspire to and sets a lovely tone for the album.

“For That Which Was Living, Lost”, featuring the wonderful Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn, was inspired by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, one of the first and still most important books of the environmental movement. It is, simply, an elegy for the thousands of species of plants and animals that have become extinct.

“Lewisburg Bluesy-oo” (rhymes with moo) pays tribute to a small town in Pennsylvania where the quartet used to perform as part of their summer concert series. The concerts took place in a gazebo on the town green and the people were incredibly welcoming and receptive to our music. Although I pronounce my “oo” differently than Duke Ellington, the title also refers to his “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”. The best part of the title is that it is really fun to say.

“Night Sounds” is written for and dedicated to my late, brilliant brother Tim, whose love of music and teaching remains a constant inspiration in my life. His death created a large hole in our families’ fabric and has made me even more grateful for the presence of my remaining brothers and sister.

“Tick Tock” was written in the style of early Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The melody is highly arranged with specific rhythmic hits and all the solos are in a straight ahead walking 4/4. The title is reflective of the repetitive quarter note device and could probably be described as onomatopoeic if I knew how to spell it.

“Longing” was influenced by one of my very favorite trumpet players and composers, Kenny Wheeler. He gave the piece its premier performance in Banff many years ago and it is beautifully rendered here by another one of his fans and disciples, Ingrid Jensen. I’m thrilled that she agreed to record it for me; she is a wonderful friend and an amazing musician.

“Sanity Clause” is completely unlike anything I have written before. I wanted to compose something with a more contemporary groove and was undoubtedly listening to the Bad Plus shortly before I wrote it! The title refers to a line uttered by Chico Marx in “A Night at the Opera”, one of my all-time favorite movies. You’ll have to see it for yourselves to fully appreciate the silliness of the scene.

“Seven Steps To My Yard” combines elements of two classic jazz tunes, “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “Yardbird Suite”. It was written as a feature for Pete Siers and he negotiates the high-wire act with his usual brand of intensity and grace.

I had the great privilege to work alongside Donald Walden, a revered icon of the Detroit jazz scene, for 11 years before his untimely passing in April of 2008. A wonderful saxophonist and composer, Donald Walden was an inspiring teacher to legions of young jazz musicians in Detroit and at the University of Michigan. We miss him every day. “For Donald” was written in his memory and features two of his students, Andrew Haefner, a recent graduate of the UM Jazz Studies program and Andrew Bishop, who received his Masters in Improvisation from the University of Michigan a decade earlier and has just taken over Donald’s position as Professor of Jazz Saxophone.

“Alone Together” is one of our favorite standards to play and gives Andrew and I a chance to engage in some contrapuntal interaction. Kurt and Pete are, as always, the perfect foils and a good time is had by all.

I hope you enjoy the music and I wish you well!


A finished CD does not happen without the efforts of many people. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to play music with Andrew, Kurt and Pete. I thank them for their dedication to my music and for their sensitivity and friendship. Thanks also go to Ingrid Jensen for her willingness to be a part of this and to Andy Haefner, a wonderful former student that I was thrilled to be able to include. Paul Keller, impresario of PKO records and an incredible musician, provided much needed guidance and support throughout this project; it would not have come to fruition without his sage advice and terrific energy. Jason Corey is a gifted recording engineer and was a joy to work with. Ted Chesky did a beautiful job on the artwork and layout under the duress of imminent deadlines. Thanks also to everyone at World Class Tapes.

We all send love and thanks to our families. I also want to remember some very special friends and teachers whose inspiration and guidance have changed my life: Rayburn Wright, John Mehegan, Dorothy Payne, Gary Green and Marian McPartland.



Ellen Rowe Quartet, Wishing Well (PKO Records)
Pianist Ellen Rowe explores nine originals (plus the standard “Alone Together”) with her quartet and two special guests: trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and tenor player Andy Haefner. Rowe’s originals are vivid sound paintings that happen to swing mightily. Jensen is a wonderful addition on two tracks: the Rachel Carson-inspired “That Which Was Living, Lost” and the Kenny Wheeler-influenced “Longing.” Other favorites: “Night Sounds” and the title track, “Wishing Well.” The pensive “For Donald,” written in memory of late saxophonist Donald Walden, features two of his students, Haefner and Andrew Bishop. The quartet members featured throughout are Rowe, Bishop, bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Pete Siers. This is a gem in every respect, revealing much to savor on every track - and a well-above-average sound quality. Rowe is a University of Michigan School of Music faculty member. Go Blue.


Review by Bruce Crowther

Ellen Rowe Wishing Well (PKO Records 054)
An exceptionally attractive CD by Ellen Rowe, a fine pianist and composer playing in what might be termed the post-bop mainstream. Lyric music, superbly played, and appealing to heart and mind alike. The members of Ellen's quartet are Andrew Bishop, tenor and soprano saxophones, Kurt Krahnke, bass, and Pete Siers, drums. All three have their solo moments, especially Andrew, and like their leader, all play with skill and imagination. Adding to the proceedings are guests Andy Haefner, tenor saxophone, on ''For Donald', and Ingrid Jensen, flügelhorn, on 'For That Which Was Living, Lost' and 'Longing'. All of this is lovely music, wonderfully well played and the result is an album that should appeal to many (Buy this now ...)

Wishing Well
Ellen Rowe Quartet | PKO Records (2010)

By Bruce Lindsay

Wishing Well is a beautifully crafted second album from the Ellen Rowe Quartet. Composer, arranger and pianist Rowe, a faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Music, formed the quartet in 2002, releasing her debut, Denali Pass (PKO Records), in 2005. Two albums in an eight-year history ensures that the band will never be labeled as prolific, but sometimes the best things are worth waiting for—and Wishing Well has certainly been worth the wait.
The album—Rowe's original compositions plus a version of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz' "Alone Together"—is a master class in small-band, straight-ahead, jazz. All of the musicians are outstanding, but no single player ever attempts to overwhelm the others and, as a result, this album is characterized by exceptional ensemble playing. Guest players Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn and Andy Haefner on tenor sax slip perfectly into the ensemble, as well as producing beautiful solo performances. The album has a late-night, laidback feel in the main, though occasional faster numbers like "Seven Steps to My Yard" up the tempo while still maintaining the mood.

Right across the album there are moments of pure magic and the occasional surprise. Andrew Bishop's soprano solo on "Alone Together" is a hard-blowing performance that also demonstrates a fine ability to create a real emotional connection with a tune. Pete Siers' drumming on "Sanity Clause" is oddly reminiscent of the drum style of the White Stripes' Meg White (although Rowe's sleeve notes actually reference Art Blakey)—a solid, hard rhythm that suits this funny and joyful tune exactly. Bassist Kurt Krahnke, whose own playing on "Sanity Clause" is rich and funky, delivers a gorgeous bass line on "Night Sounds," while playing of Siers and Rowe are at their most delicate and sensitive. Most magical of all is the duet between Bishop and Jensen on "For That Which Was Living, Lost"—plaintive and delicate, it's a most affecting interplay.

The production quality is just as high as the album's musical quality, ensuring that even the instruments' subtler nuances can be clearly heard—yet another credit for Rowe, as producer. The musicians bring creativity to their playing and Rowe's writing stands comparison with the best contemporary jazz composers. The Ellen Rowe Quartet deserves wider recognition, with the beautifully realized Wishing Well a rich and engaging testament to this band's talent.



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