Jazzman Jon Cowherd to display quality of Mercy Project in BG

Jon Cowherd: Mercy Project

The Sentinel Tribune writes,

“Not surprisingly, catching Jon Cowherd for an interview means catching him on the road.

On the day of this telephone chat he’s at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut waiting to go on stage with jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson.

A pianist, composer, arranger and producer, Cowherd has kept busy. He’s probably best known for his work with drummer Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band, which he helped found back in 1998. He’s also much in demand for a range of pop and jazz jobs, including in Roseanne Cash’s band. Just a peek at his schedule dating back to January, 2014 is exhausting – with gigs around the world, from Tokyo to Helinski and back to his home base in New York.

When Cowherd plays at Bowling Green State University April 11 for a Festival Series concert, he’ll have the chance to front his own band, The Mercy Project, a showcase for his own compositions. The group features Blade with guitarist Steve Cardenas and bassist Tony Scherr.  The concert starts at 8 p.m. in Kobacker Hall. Tickets are $20 from bgsu.edu/arts or the box office at 419-372-8171.

With Blade anchoring the rhythm section, the group is certainly an offshoot of The Fellowship Band, but one that lets the pianist’s own musical personality blossom.

His debut album, “Mercy,” released through the fan-funded service ArtistShare, features lyrical, impressionistic melodies over fluid rhythms.

The melodies spring from his improvising. He’ll record them with his iPhone and then work them over from there.

Though known as a jazz pianist, his early studies led him neither to the keyboard nor to jazz.

Both his parents were music teachers, his mother voice and his father a band leader who also composed. Even now, Cowherd said, when he’s writing he can sometimes hear bits of his father’s music.  He also learned much from their approach to music, an approach “that’s serious, that’s hard working.”

The Kentucky native took piano at 5, but later focused on French horn

Cowherd went to Loyola University in New Orleans as a classical French horn player. It was at Loyola that he met Blade, and where he discovered jazz.

“I was pulled into that direction,” he said. “It was the freedom I sensed in the musicians, the spontaneity. I loved the harmony and rhythm, and the grooves, especially the New Orleans grooves.”

He also shifted away from horn, and even took piano lessons from jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis.

Cowherd said he still draws on his orchestral experience when writing. And a producer on a Roseanne Cash session where he was contracted to play organ convinced him to get out his horn for a few tracks.

While at BGSU he’ll work with students and share with them some of what helped him develop.

While young musicians all strive to be original, they need the direction of those who came before. When an older musician would praise a colleague Cowherd had never heard of, he’d “immediately try to check it out and find out why they thought that musician was worth listening to.”