Summit Notes: Simon Rowe
“I am delighted to perpetuate the values of Dave Brubeck by gathering elite faculty for a week of intensive mentorship with a cast of talented young jazz musicians from around the world.”
Catching up with Brubeck Jazz Summit Artistic Director and Piano Instructor Simon Rowe From His Home in San Francisco, California
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Hi Simon! Thanks for your time. Let’s jump right in with an inquiry on your introduction to jazz and the piano.
Simon Rowe: Having taken the obligatory classical piano lessons in elementary school, I began playing cornet and trumpet in the 4th grade in brass bands in Sydney, Australia and was immediately smitten with music of all types.
For my 12th birthday, my grandfather appeared with a “Louis Armstrongs Greatest Hits” record and I knew from that moment on that jazz music would be my life’s work.
Through my teens and into my adult life, I have taken every opportunity to hear and to learn and perform alongside the best jazz musicians to whom I have had access…in Sydney, Houston, Chicago, St Louis, Indianapolis, etc., and now in San Francisco.
Brubeck Jazz Summit Aside: Simon has played with many greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Leibman, Tim Hagens, John Fedchock, Mulgrew Miller, Jimmy Heath, Stephanie Nakasian, Lucia Newell, Debbie Duncan, Willie Akins, Jeanne Trevor, Bob Mintzer, Luqman Hamza, Marvin Stamm, Dianne Schurr and Claudio Roditi.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Do you have a formal education in music? Can you tell us about how you learn and practice?
Simon Rowe: Yes! I have always sought out the best teachers to learn my craft (and art). At age 16, I had the opportunity to leave my home in Australia to attend the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. At HSPVA, I became part of an extraordinary community of teachers and students dedicated to a high level of excellence and artistry under the purview of a great mentor, Dr. Robert Morgan. He remains a friend and mentor now 40 years after our first meeting.
I have had many other wonderful mentors along the way including trumpet guru, William Adam; esteemed St. Louis saxophonist, Willie Akins; and iconic New Orleans Pianist, Henry Butler. I consider my work with each of these artist/teachers to have been an apprenticeship.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: As Artistic Director, can you tell us more about your vision for Brubeck Jazz Summit?
Simon Rowe: Jazz music is an oral tradition, passed from master to apprentice and from apprentice to apprentice. My vision for the Brubeck Jazz Summit is to gather masters and apprentices from around the world so that we may practice our craft and hone our art and share it with others in workshops and performance situations. Having hosted the Brubeck Summer Jazz Colony on many occasions, I am always delighted by the magic that happens when we meet and work with great teachers and have the opportunity to inspire and be inspired by students of different backgrounds.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: How do you like to experience jazz?
Simon Rowe: I love to experience jazz through every and any medium, although I love my vinyl record collection of about 700 records! Of course, live is best….and that will all be happening again very soon!
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Where does this interview find you?
Simon Rowe: My wife and I are sheltering in place in San Francisco, California. We are most grateful that our Mayor and Governor took early steps to protect our community, by instigating the physical distance mandate in mid-March. I was fortunate to be on sabbatical when the mandate began, but I am aware that my colleagues at San Francisco Conservatory of Music have worked hard to continue to engage the students remotely.
I believe that it is most important to continue every day to do the things that shape us and help us to grow. As musicians, we must listen deeply to our favorite artists, to absorb their essence and their unique attributes. I also recommend the process of transcribing these players by ear, learning their solos and playing along so as to imagine how it feels to play from a master’s perspective.
Right now, I am working on my skills on the Hammond B3 organ, so I am exploring and transcribing the work of Melvin Rhyne, an amazing player hailing from Indianapolis, and the wonderful organ trio with Larry Goldings, Peter Berstein and Bill Stewart. When practicing, it is also most important to work on fundamentals…long tones (for horn players), scales, etudes, etc. to continue to master our instruments.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: What are you reading and listening to?
Simon Rowe: I have been reading a variety of things, fiction, and nonfiction: “Captain James Cook” by Rob Mundle about the great maritime explorer who discovered Australia. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, which beautifully documents some day to day strategies for the creative artist to embrace their life journey.
I am digging into Melvin Ryne, Chris Foreman and Larry Goldings mentioned above and I am revisiting some of my all-time favorite recordings by Coltrane and Chet Baker, also, I am exploring the work of some early influences such as Ralph Towner and Kenny Wheeler.
My wife and I have also been revisiting some of our favorite film series, from Lord of The Rings to Harry Potter to Star Wars (I know that dates us!) all for some fun and healthy escape 🙂
Brubeck Jazz Summit: It’s always a pleasure catching up with you, Simon. Any parting thoughts for Brubeck Jazz Summit students and prospective students?
Simon Rowe: Please feel free to follow all of our wonderful Brubeck Jazz Summit faculty on Instagram and/or Facebook and feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the Summit!