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Behind the Music of "Velvet on Ivory" - Cleveland Jazz Orchestra

“Velvet on Ivory” with Velvet Brown, tuba & Ellen Rowe, piano

Friday, March 25, 2022 at 8:00 p.m., BLU Jazz+, Akron

Saturday, March 26, 2022 at 7:30 p.m., Maltz Performing Arts Center


Here’s a little “behind the music” from CJO Artistic Director Paul Ferguson, regarding the guest artists and what you will hear at the show:

This concert affords me a chance to welcome two friends who are not only among the finest musicians of their generation, but pioneers of a sort as well.


Ellen Rowe

Ellen Rowe preceded me as a student at Eastman in the early 1980’s and has since distinguished herself as a leading light as a jazz pianist, composer, and, since 1997, as director of the Jazz program at the University of Michigan, one of the largest in the country.


“A polished, engaging pianist; a rare convergence of technique, emotion and soul.”
–Richard Crawford, Director, American Music Institute 

Velvet Brown

Threading another unique needle, Velvet Brown, in terms of commissioning, performing, and recording, has done more for the tuba than anyone of her generation. Velvet and I performed together for many years in the New Hampshire Summer Festival Orchestra. Tonight, we’ll hear a version of the Jazz tuba Concerto she asked me to write in 2004.



“A very expressive player whose tone is focused yet robust and lively in all registers”
–American Record Guide 

One of the highlights of this concert is a premiere by Ellen Rowe, which is a tribute to local jazz icon, Ann Stamm Merrell.

A special note regarding Ann Stamm Merrell: Ann was a student at Case in the early 1970’s and played baritone sax in the Jazz Ensemble, directed by Bob Curnow. Bob, a veteran of the Stan Kenton band, encouraged Ann to write, and the Case band performed some of her earliest compositions. Later, she and local pianist Len Orcino founded the North Coast Jazz Ensemble, which eventually transformed into the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. But before that happened, Ann moved to California with her husband, Greg Merrell.

I met Ann at an Eastman Summer “Arranger’s Holiday” session in 1988 and we became fast friends. She was an excellent jazz composer whose work was performed at Eastman that summer–she studied with Rayburn Wright and Manny Albam, two of my mentors. Ann was excited that I would be starting a new teaching job at Case in the fall and she told me how much I would enjoy it, which turned out to be true! Over the years, she sent me pieces she wrote in California–”Santa Clara Shuffle”, and a few others.

In 1993, Ann discovered she had breast cancer. She died in 1999 at the age of 47. After her diagnosis, she focused on making quilts, described as “extraordinary works of art, powerful, breathtaking landscapes of color and mood, a verve and talent that astonished critics and visitors to her shows. Viewers see sewn masterpieces that erupt with energy and dazzling hues.”
A pleasure to honor Case Alumnus, saxophonist, composer, and quilter Ann Stamm Merrell with the premiere of a new composition by Ellen Rowe, orchestrated by Paul Ferguson, “For the Girls in the Band.”

“…It is fraught with symbolism (or at least, after designing it, I made up a lot of symbolism). For instance, the warm colors and cool colors represent hot jazz and cool jazz… pretty clever, eh?
…It will eventually be an irregular hexagonal shape. (After all, a jazz quilt couldn’t be square….)”
–Ann Stamm Merrell