Influential jazz pianist Stanley Cowell dies aged 79

He co-founded the visionary Black-run jazz label Strata-East Records.

Stanley Cowell, a prominent jazz pianist, composer and educator, passed away on December 17 in Delaware. He was 79.

Per the New York Times, he died of hypovolemic shock, or blood and fluid loss resulting from other health complications. The cause of death was confirmed by his wife, Sylvia Potts Cowell.

Cowell was known for his mastery of jazz vocabulary and his penchant for seamlessly melding tradition and innovation in his work. As a child, he was inspired by the playing of stride piano master Art Tatum, who was a friend of his father’s, and got his first big breaks finding work with the likes of saxophonist Marion Brown, drummers Rashied Ali and Max Roach, and Miles Davis.


While playing in Roach’s ensemble, he also met trumpeter Charles Tolliver, with whom he established Strata-East Records after failing to find a label that would pay a fair advance for their quartet album Music Inc. Strata-East would go on to become one of the most significant Black-run labels of its time.

Despite retiring from public appearances in the ’80s to become a full-time music professor, Cowell made a return to live performances in 2015 alongside his quartet with a week-long run at the Village Vanguard in New York. Just last month, he released what would be his final album, Live at Keystone Corner Baltimore, recorded in October 2019.

Cowell is among several jazz icons to have passed away this year, including saxophonist and flutist Jeff Clayton, vocalese pioneer Annie Ross and drummer Joe Porcaro.


RIP, Stanley Cowell. Listen to his final studio album, Live At Keystone Corner Baltimore, below:

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