Composer and pianist Jeff Kowalkowski with friends

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Composer/pianist Jeff Kowalkowski has made a name for himself as a veteran of the Chicago creative jazz scene.

The Northeastern Illinois University instructor is active as a freelance keyboardist and bandleader of the Jeff Kowalkowski Trio performing classical, jazz and rock music with a specialty in “avant-garde” and “new music.”

Now, the jazz power trio is set to release its self-titled debut June 29 on the New Atlantis Records label. 

“I have dreamed since I was a teen about making a jazz trio album and leading a group like this,” said Kowalkowski, who also teaches at DePaul University

The Jeff Kowalkowski Trio, which includes Kowalkowski (piano), Harrison Bankhead (bass) and Avreeyal Ra (drums), is known for creating entertaining and lively performances of their music. Bankhead and Ra are seasoned veterans of the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a nonprofit musician organization founded in Chicago. The trio will celebrate the release of their new album at 9 p.m. June 29 at the Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.

“There is nothing I would rather do musically than improvise with these two titans,” Kowalkowski said.

Kowalkowski said he wrote all the material for the album two years ago and that Bankhead and Ra were his first choice to finally begin the production process.

“We played about six shows before we went into the studio, and then we tracked the whole album in one day,” he said. “It really was like a dream for me. These musicians pushed me to a new level of playing.”

The album marks Kowalkowski’s first outing as a leader, although he’s been a contributor to Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra recordings.

“For a long time I devoted myself to collaboration and production, and I was not interested in self-promotion,” he said. “This album is really symphonic in it's structure. It is meant to be listened to from beginning to end, even though I segmented it into movements.  I hope to orchestrate some of it and add musicians in future performances.”