University of Michigan professor’s new jazz album pays tribute to women heroes in sports, social justice, and politics

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When Ellen Rowe, a Jazz pianist, and composer, was a young girl who grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut, there weren’t many women making jazz music. She has spent the better part of the last 35 years trying to change that through her success as a jazz pianist, composer, and pedagogue.

Her latest effort comes in a new album named “Momentum – Portraits of Women In Motion.” She said that the album includes eight tracks, each of which is an ode to the women who have personally inspired her throughout the years.

While some songs were dedicated to women having influenced Rowe musically, many of the women serving as inspiration for her album were heroes in other areas like sports, social justice, politics, and environmental advocacy.

In fact, immediately after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Rowe wrote one of the tracks on the album, named “The First Lady (No, Not You Melania)”.

Rowe said that Michelle Obama was, and is still, the epitome of class and grace and a powerful role model for young women everywhere and she really felt the need to celebrate her that moment.

The opening track “Ain’t I a Woman” of the album serves as a hymn to all the heroines of the civil rights movement, including women such as Mary Bethune Cook, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Septima Clark.

Other tracks were written for women who had more of a personal connection to Rowe, such as “Song of the Meadowlark” was created for her mother; “R.F.P. (Relentless Forward Progress)” was written as an homage to great female runners like Meghan Canfield Laws and Joan Benoit Samuelson; and “The Soul Keepers” was created in honor of her dear friend and U-M colleague Geri Allen, the late Detroit jazz legend.

In keeping with the theme of the album, all performers who make up the Ellen Rowe Octet, as well as guests are women.

Momentum features Tia Fuller on alto saxophone, Rowe on piano, Lisa Parrott on baritone saxophone, Virginia Mayhew on tenor saxophone, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Allison Miller on drums, and SMTD alumna Melissa Gardiner on trombone.