Much like the most celebrated icons of jazz past, pianist/composer Michele Rosewoman is fiercely determined to use her knowledge of and respect for the genre's tradition to carry it into a new generation. As evidenced by glowing reviews of her live and recorded performances, this determination has served her well, giving birth to a strikingly original voice with an all-embracing style.
Ms. Rosewoman's musical growth and professional career began in Oakland, California where she started playing piano at age six, and studied jazz traditions with the great pianist/organist Edwin Kelly. In her late teens she began playing percussion and studying African-based drum and vocal traditions, specifically Cuban and Haitian folkloric styles. Her experience as a percussionist continues to shape many aspects of her musicality, as composer, performer and bandleader.
Before moving to New York in 1978, Michele Rosewoman performed at major venues in the Bay Area with musicians such as Julian Priester, Julius Hemphill, Baikida Carroll and Oliver Lake, as well as with her own ensembles. In New York she formed new ensembles and continued to present her original music as she nurtured associations with notable New York-based jazz artists and went on to perform with Gary Bartz, Jimmy Heath, Rufus Reid, Reggie Workman, Freddie Waits, James Spaulding, John Stubblefield, Billy Hart, Howard Johnson and Carlos Ward, among others. In 1981 she began to perform with Cuban dance bands and also to study and work with the Cuban master drummer/vocalist, Orlando "Puntilla" Rios. Ms. Rosewoman performed with his group Nueva Generacion, as well as with Celia Cruz, Paquito D'Rivera, Daniel Ponce, Chocolate, Nicky Marrero and Roberto Borrell, among others.
Her life-long immersion in both traditions inevitably led Michele Rosewoman to form an ensemble with a unique synthesis of contemporary jazz and traditional religious Cuban folkloric music. In 1983 Rosewoman received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the formation of New Yor-Uba, A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America, a 14-piece ensemble conceived to perform her original compositions and arrangements of traditional Yoruban (Nigeria) and Arara (Dahomey) chants in a contemporary jazz setting. With the support of the 1983 NEA grant, New Yor-Uba made its debut before a standing-room-only crowd at New York's Public Theater. Drummer/vocalist Orlando "Puntilla" Rios, a master of the various Cuban musical forms, has been both her mentor and a member of this ensemble since its inception, providing Rosewoman with a valuable organic source as she creates the group's repertoire.
1984 brought great opportunity and success including a New Yor-Uba tour with appearances at festivals throughout Europe and the release of her first recording as pianist/arranger/musical director for the Cuban songo group, Los Kimy. She was also awarded an ASCAP/Meet the Composer Commission for Emerging Composers by a panel made up of jazz masters Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland and Lester Bowie. This resulted in a new work, "The Heart of Answers", performed by the 40-piece Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and a quintet of improvisers, including Rufus Reid, Howard Johnson and Greg Osby, with performances at Cooper Union Great Hall in New York City and the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill, New York. Also in 1984, her debut recording as a leader, THE SOURCE (Soul Note) was released and received critical praise for its radiance and ingenuity. In a review published by DownBeat, Rosewoman's direction was likened to that of master innovator Charles Mingus. With her maiden voyage on record, she had distinguished herself as both a talented player and a composer of unique vision.
Her second recording, QUINTESSENCE, (Enja/1987) was named by numerous critics and polls as one of the best jazz releases of the year and has been cited several times since as one of the best jazz recordings of the 1980's. Ms. Rosewoman began to establish a reputation as one of the most ingenious and prolific bandleaders of her generation. DownBeat magazine wrote: "An aggressive pianist with strong busy fingers at the service of quick, acute and creative thought, she communicates assurance and ardor whether on the cutting edge of jazz or within the mainstream. What musicianship and moving expression! Bring on the future."
Since it's debut at the Cooper Union Great Hall in New York City in 1986, QUINTESSENCE has served as the main vehicle for Rosewoman's evolution as pianist, composer and bandleader. As she assembled dynamic bands to interpret her writing, she became known for bringing together some of the most inventive voices in contemporary jazz, including saxophonists Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Gary Thomas, David Sanchez, Steve Wilson, Miguel Zenon and Mark Shim, bassists Anthony Cox, Kenny Davis and Lonnie Plaxico, and drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Gene Jackson, among others. Many have cited the experience of playing within the context of this highly acclaimed ensemble as notably influential in their own development as musicians, composers and bandleaders.
Of her latest QUINTESSENCE release, GUARDIANS OF THE LIGHT, (Enja/2000) an NPR review noted: "On her latest...[Rosewoman] sounds more than ever the confident master of her committed course. An indomitable modern jazz pianist, her singular sound ideas expand readily to her dark, fiery ensembles. So it all comes together, big, tight and flexible, rangy, spontaneous, serious and mysterious. Rosewoman and her band are jazz believers, jazz devotees, keepers of the flame."
In addition to four recordings with QUINTESSENCE on Enja Records, Ms. Rosewoman has two trio recordings, OCCASION TO RISE, (Evidence/1993) which was voted one of the year's best recordings by six critics' polls, and SPIRIT, (Blue Note/1996) recorded live at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Michele Rosewoman has composed and arranged music for groups from duos to 40-piece orchestras. With seven recordings under her name, she has presented her ensembles at festivals, concert halls and clubs throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan. Among these are the JVC, Ravinia, Atlanta, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, North Sea, Paris, Warsaw and Berlin jazz festivals and venues including Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Cooper Union Great Hall, The Public Theatre, Paramount Center for the Arts, The Museum of Modern Art, New York University, Temple University, Stanford University, Kuumbwa, Blue Note (New York and Tokyo), Village Vanguard, The Apollo, Jazz Standard, Sweet Rhythm, Birdland, Yoshi's, New Morning (Paris), Bim Huis (Amsterdam) and the Jazz Cafe (London).
As an educator, Ms. Rosewoman conducts classes, workshops and clinics and teaches piano and composition privately. Included among her past and current credits are teaching positions at New York University and the New School for Social Research. She has also worked extensively with young people and has led and directed numerous vocal workshops and choirs throughout the years.
Recent activities of note include a new QUINTESSENCE recording, to be released this year, a six-country European tour with trombonist Robin Eubanks, a series of duo concerts with saxophonist Greg Osby and the receipt of a Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation New Works Creation and Presentation Grant for QUINTESSENCE.