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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Dec 26, 2023

At the age of 83, guitarist Ralph Towner continues to write, perform and improvise on the highest of musical levels. He has been an ECM artist for more than fifty years, appearing in many different contexts, one of the most important being a run of solo recordings which began with Diary in 1973. At First Light is the latest addition to the solo guitar series. Never one to be pigeon-holed as an interpreter and composer of a specific type of music, this release features new and old Towner pieces, as well as tunes from Broadway musicals and the much-covered Irish traditional air “Danny Boy.”

Born into a musical family in Washington in 1940, Towner grew up immersed in classical music, jazz and the popular music of the day. A trumpet player from the age of seven, he took up piano seriously in his teens, in parallel studying composition, then embraced the classical guitar at 22.

What makes Towner’s sound unique is his desire to draw crucial inspirations from classical music, contemporary composition, Bill Evans’s conception of jazz and also from Brazilian music. At this time, his sound can only be called “Towner-esque.”

At First Light was recorded at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in February 2022, and produced by ECM maestro Manfred Eicher. Towner lives in Rome with his wife, the actress Mariello Lo Sardi, and we spoke by Zoom on an unseasonably hot morning a few months ago. In part one of our two-part conversation, we discussed the differences to Towner of recording solo versus a group, of using different strings and guitars to create the varying colors and sounds he hears in his head, and how as a young piano player he began his career improvising with the likes of John Abercrombie, Gary Peacock and Gary Burton. Musical selections from At First Light  includes “Make Someone Happy.”