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Finding a Voice

Originally a pianist, Ralph Towner says the guitar is more expressive and personal.


At 22, Ralph Towner had already earned a degree in composition from the University of Oregon and was adept at the piano and trumpet when he discovered his true passion, the guitar.

Towner, now 60, appears Tuesday at Cal State Northridge in an International Guitar Night concert that also features Marco Pereira, a Brazilian who blends Brazilian, jazz and classical modes; Antonio Calogero, an Italian who favors the classical genre; and Brian Gore, an American who calls himself a folk musician.

Towner recently explained his devotion to the stringed instrument.

"It has all the polyphonic potential of the piano, but it's more portable," he said.

"It's also very expressive and personal, an instrument on which it's easier to find a voice and be individual than on the piano, because different fingers produce a different tone."

Though he sometimes plays a 12-steel-stringed guitar "that's murder on my fingers," the nylon-stringed classical guitar is Towner's instrument of choice.

"It's more difficult than people realize," said Towner, whose latest solo recording was 1997's "Ana."

"But I try not to make the difficulty obvious. I want to remove people from that, give them a transcendent musical experience. I'm not a guitar maniac. For me, it's a wonderful instrument."

Towner is perhaps best known as co-founder of the group Oregon, but he has also recorded or performed with everyone from Keith Jarrett and Elvin Jones to Weather Report.

Towner and the others will play some solo pieces Tuesday and then join up for some spontaneous duets.

He said his originals are designed as vehicles for musical narratives.

"My pieces are basically quite lyrical, with some faster than others," he said.

"They have a common bond in that they all rope you into a kind of musical story, a story without words."


Ralph Towner appears Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center, University Student Union, Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Enter parking lot C off Zelzah Ave. Tickets: $19.50-$10. Call (818) 677-2488.

In Brief: The eclectic, appealing Andy Milne, a New York-based jazz/funk/experimental keyboardist, plays with his Cosmic Dapp Theory sextet Wednesday through Nov. 18, and then again Nov. 22 and 24-25, at Rocco, 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel-Air. (310) 475-9807).

Blues-rich guitarist Phil Upchurch is set for La Ve Lee tonight, and it's Latin jazz hero Poncho Sanchez on Saturday, both at 9:30 p.m. at 12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-8158.


Zan Stewart writes about jazz for the Valley Edition. He can be reached at

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