Catching Up With John Stowell

John Stowell, Solitary Tales (Origin). The CD’s title suits the guitarist, a peripatetic performer who roams the world. I recently heard a musician say, “You never know where he’ll show up.” Although Stowell often plays with others, some of his most stunning work, as here, is unaccompanied. He alternates acoustic and electric guitars, but when he is plugged in he keeps his amplifier volume low and his attack subtle. The listener is more likely to be involved with the gentle insistence of Stowell’s long lines and development of harmonic possibilities than concern with which instrument he’s playing.
Thumbnail image for Stowell Solitary.jpgHe opens with Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love,” mining it for chords to alter, phrases to stretch or contract and, following a contemplative solo, a coda that swings the track to a close. He plays pieces by Bill Evans, Steve Swallow and Ornette Coleman and six of his own compositions. “Funny Man,” an Evans tune rarely played by others, gets a series of single-note-line runs that Stowell builds on Evans’s intriguing chord structure. Swallow’s impressionistic “Willow” is another highlight. Stowell’s treatment of Coleman’s “Blues Connotation,” has deep inflections in the bass notes, time that pulses beneath the surface, and wry commentary hinting at call-and-response. Of his own pieces, “Fun With Fruit” and “Laughing River” are as intriguing as their mysterious titles. This could be party music, I suppose, if you were having a very quiet party. For full enjoyment, it requires–and rewards–close attention
In this video clip, Stowell plays a medley of two Wayne Shorter pieces,”Fall” and Nefertiti,” not included in Solitary Tales.

When Stowell is at his home base in the US Pacific Northwest, he frequently performs with two of that region’s world-class musicians, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop. In this video, tenor saxophonist Rick Mandyck joins them in a piece with the misleading title, “Turgid,” which is on their Scenes CD.

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit


  1. says

    John is an extraordinary musician; I first heard him in 1998 in Russia, where he was taking part in the Jazz Province tour across central part of the country (I was working as the onstage host in that tour.) Since that, my numerous encounters with John only proved that his strength is in his unaccompanied playing; he was probably the only guitarist I’ve heard live who not only attempted to play walking bass, comp, AND improvise a solo line on top, but succeeded in that, and the result was enjoyable music, not just instrumental circus.
    (Yes I know that circus is a great art, and instrumental circus in music is very important as it’s encourages young players and entertains wide audiences; but instrumental circus not necessarily means enjoyable music.)

  2. Molly Larson Cook says

    John is not only an incredible musician but has become a guiding light for my writing. His dedication to his craft and aesthetic purity have kept me on track for years. I was fortunate to do a concert with John two years ago when he played and I read from my jazz novel. It was a toss-up to say who accompanied whom with the words and music so beautifully interwoven. Mention John’s name to other jazz musicians and there’s an immediate light of recognition that he is one of the finest playing.