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Rowan Hudson



Rowan Hudson



Listen to the Rowan Hudson Trio playing Lulu's Back In Town with Rowan Hudson (piano), JJ Stillwell (double bass) and
Joe Dessauer (drums)



I first met pianist Rowan Hudson In 2009. As soon as he had reached his fourteenth birthday he began to play publicly at a café in his home city of Wells in Somerset. “I decided that I wanted somewhere else to play rather than just playing at home,” he said “I read in the local paper that this café was opening so I thought I would get in and ask them before anyone else did”. Quite gutsy for a thirteen year old.

The Piano Café in Wells opened as Rowan hit his fourteenth birthday and they agreed to give him a trial – five numbers the following Saturday morning. He was booked. He started by playing for two hours on alternate Saturday mornings, but went on to Piano Cafe Wellsplay every week and occasionally for functions at the café under the large photographs of Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday that were hanging on the café walls. “People will sometimes come and ask for tunes I don’t know,” he says. “But I usually say I’ll go away and learn them.”

Rowan was born in 1993 in West Hampstead, London but the family moved to Somerset just one year later. His father had played drums in his younger days, his mother is an actress, and an uncle lectures in music at Glamorgan University, but jazz has not really featured in the family background. There was however a great stack of vinyl recordings belonging to Rowan’s father that Rowan started dipping into. The collection is mainly 1960s and 1970s popular music, but it was the 1960s albums that captured Rowan’s interest despite the current popular music that was being played by his friends.

Rowan has a number of guitars. He has also, like his father, experimented with playing drums, but it has been the piano that he has identified with most strongly. “I started piano lessons when I was seven,” he remembers. “I think my father wanted me to have the opportunity to learn that he didn’t have when he was young."

The involvement with jazz began when Rowan discovered an LP of Soft Machine amongst his father’s collection, an album that bridged popular music and jazz with modal and electric fusions. The music department at Rowan’s school was good in terms of general music education, but was not proactive in encouraging Rowan’s evident jazz talent. Instead, he researched jazz on the internet and bought jazz albums through ebay, gradually building up a collection of sheet music and albums by John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and others. From those he took his inspiration and both at home and at the café, developed his repertoire and improvisational technique. Although her own background is not in jazz, Rowan’s piano teacher, Karen Squance, was greatly supportive, looking at the jazz pieces he wanted to play and discussing how to approach them.

Rowan's interest in 1960s music continued alongside as this gave him an opportunity to play organ with other friends who are musicians – bass, drums and sax - who were are able to rehearse in a local garage.

In 2009, Rowan studied Music, Music Technology, History and Film Studies at Strode College. Strode has a thriving, active music department and also provides a base for the Centre of Somerset Youth Jazz Orchestra (COSYJO). Moving to London in mid-2011 he studied Jazz at Middlesex University and graduated in 2014. Since then has formed several groups and played with some of London's leading musicians as well as touring Germany and the UK. He has been playing and teaching in London ever since.


Here is the Rowan Hudson Trio in 2018 playing John Coltrane's Vilia at The Jazz Room at Barnes Bridge in London.





Looking back over the last five years from June 2020, Rowan says: "I've been mostly playing with my trio (JJ Stillwell and Joe Dessauer/Angus Bishop), with JJ's group Nattacackle, and with the singer Richard Hadfield. We've done a couple of short tours and he's currently putting together a much bigger UK tour for next year (if there are any venues left to play in!). I'm also currently working on getting my music into filmmaking circles, The Lighthouse has been used in a Brazilian short film which is yet to be released, but I'm hoping to get my music into a few others as well."


Listen to The Lighthouse





In April 2019, he released his band's debut album, Passing Ships, with Sophie English (cello); Sophie Creaner (clarinet); Rowan Hudson (piano); Jj Stillwell (bass) and Angus Bishop (drums). The album includes the track The Lighthouse.


Rowan Hudson Passing Ships album


The project took a different approach. Rowan explains: "JJ and Angus I studied with and have done hundreds of gigs with, so they've had a very Jazz-centric way of approaching things as I have. The two Sophies are completely the opposite, both had classical upbringings and have very rarely played any improvised music. Sophie Creaner (clarinet) is particularly interested in early music and is actually something of a multi-instrumentalist outside of my group. Sophie English (cello) is very busy in the pop world, she does a lot of Radio 1 Sessions and has quite a portfolio of artists she's worked with. Both of them I sought out for this project and hadn't met before, though they were both very accommodating and willing to try new things. One of the major problems I've had with Passing Ships is that it doesn't neatly fit into any genre. There are elements of jazz but every note is written so obviously the philosophy is very different. That also means that it's hard to find venues to play in, though the Bulls Head in Barnes (and particularly Yvonne Evans) have been very supportive. On the whole I am very proud of the Passing Ships album, I feel that it's the best representation of who I am as a musician, and was created only for that purpose with a very supportive set of musicians. I also really like the artwork which was done by Angus Bishop."



Listen to Wind Up Birds from the album:




I asked Rowan how he had been managing during the months that the Coronavirus had caused disruption throughout the UK.

"During lockdown I've actually mostly been transcribing and getting back into a solid practice routine which I had lost a little over the last couple of years. I've got a YouTube channel which I sell transcriptions from and which has really come alive over the lockdown period, I assume from everyone staying home and playing more than usual. I'm really just looking forward to playing with my trio again, even if no one is listening. I've really felt the lack of other people to bounce ideas off of during lockdown which and it will be good to get back to having that, and if and when the UK tour with singer Richard Hadfield goes ahead that, will be a lot of my focus later in the year and going into 2021."

"I've also got some very sketchy ideas about doing a solo album, again in a sort of Passing Ships vein, so probably with very little improvisation. I've been listening to a lot of Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Simon Jeffes which I'd really like to model my new compositions on."

Simon and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra were featured on BBC2's The Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1984 and fortunately there is a video from that show that has been archived here:




As with many musicians, it will be interesting to see and hear the direction Rowan's music takes as the Coronavirus restrictions are steadily lifted.

Click here for Rowan Hudson's website.



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