Ralph Towner (born March 1, 1940) is an American multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and bandleader. He plays the twelve-string guitar, classical guitar, piano, synthesizer, percussion, trumpet and French horn.
Towner was born into a musical family in Chehalis, Washington, United States. 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. 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 and 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.
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 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 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”, demonstrated his skill and versatility to the full using a 12-string guitar.
Since the early 1990s, Towner has lived in Italy, first in Palermo and then in Rome.
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