Ralph Towner

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Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner.JPG
Ralph Towner in concert with Paolo Fresu, Treibhaus Innsbruck 2010
Background information
Birth nameRalph Towner
Born (1940-03-01) March 1, 1940 (age 81)
Chehalis, Washington, United States
Genres Jazz, classical, world, folk
Occupation(s)Guitarist, arranger, bandleader, composer
Instruments 12-string guitar, classical guitar, piano, synthesizer, percussion, trumpet
Years active1960s–present
Labels ECM
Associated acts Oregon, Weather Report, Gary Burton, Paul Winter, Gary Peacock, Jan Garbarek, John Abercrombie, Glen Moore, Bill Bruford, Eddie Gómez, Slava Grigoryan, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Paolo Fresu, Jeremy Steig, Paul McCandless, Collin Walcott
Website www.ralphtowner.com

Ralph Towner (born March 1, 1940, Chehalis, Washington) is an American multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and bandleader. He plays the twelve-string guitar, classical guitar, piano, synthesizer, percussion and trumpet. [1]



Ralph Towner with Oregon at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay CA 4/30/89. Ralph Towner1989.jpg
Ralph Towner with Oregon at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay CA 4/30/89.

Towner was born into a musical family in Chehalis, Washington. His mother was a piano teacher and his father a trumpet player. Towner learned to improvise on the piano at the age of three. He began his career as a conservatory-trained classical pianist, attending the University of Oregon from 1958-1963, where he also studied composition with Homer Keller. [2] He studied classical guitar at the Vienna Academy of Music with Karl Scheit from 1963-64 and 1967-68.

He joined world music pioneer Paul Winter's "Consort" ensemble in the late 1960s. He first played jazz in New York City in the late 1960s as a pianist and was strongly influenced by the renowned jazz pianist Bill Evans. He began improvising on classical and 12-string guitars in the late 1960s/early 1970s and formed alliances with musicians who had worked with Evans, including flautist Jeremy Steig, bassists Eddie Gómez, Marc Johnson, Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. [3] [4]

Along with bandmates Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, and Collin Walcott, Towner left the Winter Consort in 1970 to form the group Oregon, which over the course of the 1970s issued a number of highly influential records mixing folk music, Indian classical forms, and avant-garde jazz-influenced free improvisation. At the same time, Towner began a longstanding relationship with the influential ECM record label, which has released virtually all of his non-Oregon recordings since his 1973 debut as a leader Trios / Solos .

Towner appeared as a sideman on Weather Report's 1972 album I Sing the Body Electric . His 1975 album Solstice which featured a popular track called Nimbus demonstrates his skill and versatility to the full using a 12-string guitar. [5]

Since the early 1990s, Towner has lived in Italy, first in Palermo and then in Rome. [6]


Towner eschews amplification, using only 6-string nylon-string and 12-string steel-string guitars. As a result, he tends to avoid high-volume musical environments, preferring small groups of mostly acoustic instruments that emphasize dynamics and group interplay. Towner also obtains a percussive effect (e.g., "Donkey Jamboree" from Slide Show with Gary Burton) from the guitar by weaving a matchbook among the strings at the neck of the instrument. [7] Both with Oregon and as a solo artist, Towner has made significant use of overdubbing, allowing him to play piano (or synthesizer) and guitar on the same track; his most notable use of the technique came on his 1974 album Diary , in which he plays guitar-piano duets with himself on most of the album's 8 tracks. [8] In the 1980s, Towner began using the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer extensively [9] but has since de-emphasized his synthesizer and piano playing in favor of guitar.


Two lunar craters were named by the Apollo 15 astronauts after two of Towner's compositions, "Icarus" and "Ghost Beads." [10] [11]


As leader

With Atmosphere

With Oregon

With Paul Winter Consort

As sideman or guest

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<i>Matchbook</i> (Ralph Towner & Gary Burton album) 1975 studio album by Ralph Towner & Gary Burton

Matchbook is an album by guitarist Ralph Towner and vibraphonist Gary Burton recorded in 1974 and released on the ECM label.

<i>Oregon</i> (album) 1983 studio album by Oregon

Oregon is an album by American world music/jazz group Oregon featuring Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, and Collin Walcott recorded in 1983 and released on the ECM label. The album reached number twenty one on Billboards Jazz Albums and Top Jazz Albums charts.

<i>Crossing</i> (album) 1985 studio album by Oregon

Crossing is an album by American world music/jazz group Oregon featuring Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, and Collin Walcott which was recorded in 1984 and released on the ECM label. This was the final album recorded with Walcott, released after his death in November 1984.

<i>Ecotopia</i> (album) 1987 studio album by Oregon

Ecotopia is an album by American world music/jazz group Oregon featuring Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, and Trilok Gurtu, who replaced Collin Walcott following his accidental death, recorded in 1987 and released on the ECM label.

<i>In Concert</i> (Oregon album) 1975 live album by Oregon

In Concert is a live album by the American jazz group Oregon released in 1975. The album peaked at number 35 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart in 1976.

<i>Icarus</i> (Paul Winter Consort album) 1972 studio album by Paul Winter Consort

Icarus is the fourth album by American musical group Paul Winter Consort. It was recorded in 1971 for the Epic Records label and released in 1972. It was re-released by Epic in 1978 and by Living Music in 1984. The album was produced by George Martin.


  1. "Biography". 1940-03-01. Retrieved 2019-11-30.
  2. "Oregon ComposersWatch: Homer Keller". composerswatch.proscenia.net. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  3. Feather, Leonard (2007). The biographical encyclopedia of jazz. Gitler, Ira. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 650. ISBN   9780195320008. OCLC   123233012.
  4. "Ralph Towner | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  5. Cline, Nels (2017). "Focused: An appreciation of the genre-bending guitar work of Ralph Towner". Fretboard Journal. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  6. Jazz, All About. "Ralph Towner: The Accidental Guitarist". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  7. Lesson, Dale Turner 2018-03-19T14:53:03Z. "Ralph Towner's Nylon and 12-String Craftsmanship". guitarworld. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  8. "Diary - Ralph Towner". ECM Records. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  9. Grillo, Tyran (2011-12-20). "Ralph Towner: Blue Sun (ECM 1250)". Between Sound and Space: ECM Records and Beyond. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  10. "The Consort". Paul Winter. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  11. "Now he's over the moon about Icarus". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2002-11-25. Retrieved 2019-08-11.