Although Mercy is Jon Cowherd's first album under his own name, the esteemed pianist/composer/arranger/producer is already firmly established as one of the jazz world's most accomplished, expressive and in-demand young musicians.
The Kentucky-raised, New Orleans-schooled, New York-based Cowherd is best known for his long-running partnership with drummer/bandleader Brian Blade, with whom he co-founded the Brian Blade Fellowship, whose acclaimed, influential albums showcase Cowherd's stellar keyboard work and singular compositional skills. When not recording and touring with the Fellowship, Cowherd has worked extensively with a broad array of players and singers from the jazz, pop and rock worlds.
His impressive resume aside, Mercy is the most compelling example yet of Jon Cowherd's remarkable sensitivity, inventiveness and versatility. Recorded in an inspired three-day session at New York's Avatar Studios, the sterling set is comprised of ten new Cowherd originals, with his sublime keyboard work anchoring an all-star quartet that includes Bill Frisell on acoustic and electric guitars, John Patitucci on acoustic bass and longtime collaborator Brian Blade on drums. The resulting album is a creative landmark for Cowherd, with such ambitious numbers as "The Columns," "Postlude," the three-part "Mercy Suite" and the playful departure "Recital Hour (Timmy's Theme)" demonstrating his gifts as an instrumentalist and composer.
"It definitely feels like a personal milestone," Cowherd says of Mercy. "My collaboration with Brian Blade has given me the freedom to record my own pieces, but I still felt the need to make a statement under my own name. That notion was intimidating for a long time, and I never felt ready until the last couple of years. I felt that my playing had to get to another level before I released something as a leader. Studying classical piano with Jeff Goldstein from 2001-2009 really helped me gain that confidence."
A consistent dedication to honing his talents and broadening his musical horizons has been a lifelong mission for Cowherd. Growing up in Kentucky as the son of musician parents who doubled as music educators, he embraced music early in life, taking up piano, french horn and violin as well as singing. In 1988, he migrated to the musical mecca of New Orleans to attend Loyola University. There, he studied jazz piano and improvisation under Crescent City piano legend Ellis Marsalis and with noted players John Mahoney, Steve Masakowski and Michael Pellera. He also joined local bands led by Tony Dagradi and Delfeayo Marsalis, and played with the New Orleans Ballet and the New Orleans Symphony and Opera. In 1993, Cowherd moved to New York, where he earned a Masters Degree in Jazz Studies from the Manhattan School of Music.
It was in New Orleans' hotbed of musical inspiration that Cowherd met fellow Loyola student Brian Blade, with whom he would form the Brian Blade Fellowship. With Blade on drums and Cowherd on piano, and both sharing compositional duties, the Brian Blade Fellowship has proven to be an enduring and rewarding creative unit, releasing the albums Brian Blade Fellowship (Blue Note, 1998), Perceptual (Blue Note, 2000) and Season of Changes (Verve, 2008).
When not collaborating with Blade, Cowherd's keyboard work, as well as his producing and arranging skills, have kept him at work on a wide variety of projects with an equally varied assortment of artists. He's currently a member of Cassandra Wilson's band, the Alicia Olatuja band and Nate Smith & Kinfolk, and his instrumental work has graced albums by the likes of Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash, Lizz Wright, Iggy Pop, Alicia Olatuja, Marc Cohn, Mark Olson and Victoria Williams, and he's recorded alongside such world-class musicians as Joni Mitchell, Daniel Lanois, John Leventhal, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Nate Smith, Dave Easley, Jeff Parker, Marcus Strickland and Jack Wilkins. As a producer, Cowherd has overseen albums by Lizz Wright, Alyssa Graham, Maria Neckam and The Local NYC. He also recently served as keyboardist for and co-musical director for the all-star Joni Jazz concert at the Hollywood Bowl, in honor of Joni Mitchell, in which he performed with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chaka Khan, Kurt Elling, Aimee Mann, Glen Hansard and Cassandra Wilson.