Jimmy Rowles Biography

James George Hunter, 19 August 1918, Spokane, Washington, USA, d. 28 May 1996, Los Angeles, California, USA. A self-taught pianist, Rowles first attracted wide attention in Southern California in the early 40s as a member of small groups led by Slim Gaillard, Lester Young and others. It was at this time that he struck up a friendship with Ben Webster that was to last for many years. Later in the decade he was with big bands led by Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown and Woody Herman, and was also in great demand as accompanist to singers. His reputation in this latter respect was enhanced by his work with Peggy Lee, Webster, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Ella Fitzgerald (although he stated that he detested his work with Fitzgerald). His long years as a studio musician in Hollywood, and later in New York, failed to dampen either his own talent or the regard in which he was held by musicians.

Rowles recorded with George Mraz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Harper, Pepper Adams and Mel Lewis among many others. His work with Getz and his accompaniment to Lee were particularly inspiring. He was a highly gifted player, with a deft touch and a seemingly endless store of ideas, which he imparted with acerbic wit and skill. He was also a talented artist and highly skilled as a tennis player. This combination made Rowles one of the best mainstream pianists in jazz. As an accompanist to singers he had few, if any, superiors. His many record albums are ample testimony to his talent, yet he remains one of the least known of jazz players. His daughter Stacy (b. 11 September 1955) is an accomplished jazz trumpeter, and the Rowleses worked together in Los Angeles during the early 80s, later recording Tell It Like It Is in 1984. He was plagued with ill health in his later years.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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