OMTA Guest Artist: Bradley Sowash
Bradley Sowash is a composer, creative pianist, multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, author, and educator specializing in improvisation. He has concerts in every imaginable setting from living rooms and jazz clubs to major concert venues both here and abroad for over thirty years. His broadcast credits include seven seasons of appearances on the PBS-TV series, The Piano Guy, and National Public Radio has aired selections from his nine CDs.
He teaches master classes nationwide and co-founded with Leila Viss, the summer 88 Creative Keys piano improvisation camp for students and teachers in Denver, CO. The Neil A. Kjos Music Company publishes his widely acclaimed and Augsburg Fortress Press has published several volumes of his hymn arrangements. He also writes a column about improvisation for Clavier Companion and self-publishes works for ballet, big band, choir, film, orchestra, solo piano and string quartet.
After earning his degree in music composition at Ohio State University, Sowash moved to New York City where he worked with many modern dance luminaries including Mark Morris, Meredith Monk, and Susan Hadley with whom he collaborated for 10 years. Later, while living abroad, Sowash refined his mainstream jazz piano technique before appreciative audiences in several countries while exploring the roots of concert performance, Alpine skiing, and his French heritage. Upon reaching what he affectionately calls the “dogs and horses phase of life,” Sowash returned to his native Ohio to raise a family “in the warm embrace of the Midwest” and develop his unique piano style, which, while influenced by jazz, remains distinctly his own.
A well-regarded jazz educator, Sowash is the author of a nine volume jazz piano method published by the Neil A. Kjos Music Company. He frequently offers teacher training workshops for piano teachers in conjunction with that series. He is a faculty member at Suzuki Music Columbus and Chamber Music Connection. He also maintains a private studio with students ranging in age from 9 to 70. Past educational positions include The Ohio State University Department of Dance and New York City High School of the Performing Arts, which is featured in the movie, Fame.
Sowash currently serves as the Pop/Jazz Chairperson for Music Teachers National Association. He also regularly appears as a guest speaker and arts consultant offering professional development workshops for fellow artists and teachers. As a panelist and board member, he has served art organizations including Jazz Master Awards, several state art councils and Worthington Arts Council in his hometown.
Roaming somewhere on the musical spectrum between Ellington’s playfulness and Beethoven’s romanticism, Sowash’s music has been described as ‘contemporary jazz with classical stylings’. Every Sowarsh concert contains a few familiar standards, yet he is most recognized for his innate gift for instilling feelings that words leave untouched into his original compositions. Sowash’s commentaries, which reflect his vast and varied experience as a parent, modern dance collaborator, teacher, church musician, sailor, horseman, outdoor enthusiast, and world traveler, are an integral part of every performance and make his warm, poetic melodies even more accessible to casual listeners. In addition to his concert hall performances, Sowash performs jazz worship services and sacred concerts in churches nationwide.
Though the concert experience is vital to Sowash’s artistry, he has recorded nine critically acclaimed CDs. While on a hiking and fly fishing trip in 1993, Sowash was deeply inspired by the magnitude and variety of American landforms. This experience led to his first recording, Out West, which received favorable reviews in national publications. The sweet experience of raising his two daughters, tempered by the knowledge that they would grow up so fast, inspired his second release, Bittersweet in 1996. The love of intense outdoor activities that inspired his third album, For the Beauty of the Earth also caused Sowash to postpone touring following its release when he broke his arm in a fall from an untrained horse. New Age Retailer declared it, “One of the best solo piano albums of 1999.” The 2002 release of We Gather Together, which features hymns and spirituals, prompted Solo Piano Publications to declare Sowash, “simply one of the best pianists on the contemporary scene.” Augsburg Fortress Press has published a two-volume set of accompanying sheet music. Outstanding worldwide sales prompted the follow-up release of more jazz hymns arrangements with When the Saints Go Marching and For the Beauty of the Earth in 2004, which is also available in sheet music form. Sacred Jazz and Spirituals (2005) documents a live concert with his jazz quintet and a 45-voice choir. Whodunit? features selections from his original score to the mystery ballet of the same name which premiered on March 8, 2007 in a production by BalletMet, with choreography by Susan Hadley. Fum Bells is his most recent project, Christmas classics arranged with unusual stylistic twists for large jazz ensemble and choir.
The American Prize in Composition named Sowash a 2012 semi-finalist in the Orchestra Professional Division and a 2013 special citation recognizing his “Unique Skill in Combining Classical Techniques with Popular Idioms.” He also became an associate editor for Clavier Companion that year. In 1999, he was the featured artist at the Arts Midwest 15-state regional conference in Cleveland, OH. He is listed in John Shaefer’s book, New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music and in Katherine Teck’s Movement to Music. Sowash has received numerous grants from Ohio Arts Council as well as from New York State Council of the Arts, Hazelbaker Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and New York Foundation for the Arts.