Ellen Rowe was born November 11, 1958, in Norwalk, CT, and raised in Ridgefield. Both of her parents were trained at the Juilliard School of Music, so naturally she was exposed to sophisticated and diverse sounds. The Rowe household was filled with the classical music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Antonin Dvorák; more popular albums of Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland; the jazz of Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett; big-band music from the '40s, '50s, and '60s; musicals; the Beatles; and English folk groups. She started playing the piano by ear when she was four, while her personal tastes ran to Elton John, Carole King, Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Joni Mitchell. Naturally, her jazz influences were Brubeck, Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Marian McPartland, Horace Silver, Maynard Ferguson, mainstream Miles Davis, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. At Ridgefield High School, she studied with band directors Joseph Celli and Clayton Arnott, and for four years was tutored by famed pianist, author, and instructor John Mehegan. Off to the Eastman School of Music with a professional career uppermost in mind, Rowe spent six years with arranging mentor Rayburn Wright and jazz pianist Bill Dobbins. While attending Eastman she had her first significant professional success, winning the Kansas City Women's Jazz Festival Combo Competition with her jazz quintet, Joyspring. The group subsequently performed at that festival as well as at the New York City Women's Jazz Festival.
It was during this time period that she also acquired her first professional arranging experience, writing orchestral features for Marian McPartland and Gene Bertoncini as well as big-band charts for Red Mitchell and Bob Brookmeyer. During grad school she met McPartland, who has been a continuing mentor, personal counselor, and friend ever since. Winner of the Hartford Advocate Reader's Poll for Best Acoustic Jazz, she has performed at jazz clubs and concerts throughout the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Very active as a clinician, she has given workshops and master classes at the Melbourne Conservatory, the Hochschule Music School in Cologne, and the Royal Academy of Music in London. In her early days of academia, Rowe served as director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut, then moved on to the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, where she is Associate Professor of Jazz Piano and Chair of the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation, and directs one of the University of Michigan Jazz Ensembles.
Some of the artists Rowe has worked with include Kenny Wheeler, Gene Bertoncini, Tom Harrell, John Clayton, Harvie Swartz, Jiggs Whigham, the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Commodores, the Eastman Jazz Ensemble, the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Ensemble, the Berlin and NDR Radio Jazz Orchestras, the London Symphony, and the Perth Jazz Orchestra. She perhaps is best known for her work with Sherrie Maricle and the all-female jazz big band Diva. Rowe has also been selected as conductor for all-state jazz ensembles around the country and has been an invited clinician at the Music Educators National Conference Eastern Division convention and annual International Association of Jazz Educators conventions. Her regular working ensemble includes saxophonist Andrew Bishop, bassist Kurt Krahnke, and drummer Pete Siers. Rowe is also an accomplished outdoorswoman, mountain climber, and trail hiker. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi