About Me – Your Instructor, Scott Rowe

If you’ve been to the BeSharpPiano.com home page, you already know my name is Scott Rowe and I’m the instructor and lesson creator on this site. This is my page containing my in-depth biographical information. You know. For inquiring minds who want to know.

As mentioned back there on the home page, I’ve been playing the piano for over 50 years and I’ve been teaching professionally since 2004. As a professional keyboardist, I’ve done everything: played in rock and jazz bands, played solo at jazz clubs, parties, corporate mixers, hotel lobbies–you name it. I auditioned singers for what little musical theater existed in Los Angeles back in the day, and played synthesizer for a high school show choir in Arcadia. 

I’ve taught students ranging in age from 5 to 75, and can proudly say that some of them even grabbed the torch and went professional themselves. My brushes with fame include playing in the opening band for Little Richard in 1998, and meeting Keith Emerson in 2008. 

I’ve had a lot of formal training in both classical and jazz piano in terms of both performance and composition. I was already 40 years old when I decided to get serious about making money with music on a part-time basis and didn’t get serious about doing it full time as a living until I was 50. 

So, I will offer my most important piece of advice: as soon as you can perform well enough that you don’t send your audience out screaming in the street, get out there and play. Do it for free, if necessary, but then as soon as someone is willing to pay you, get paid for it. 

I didn’t realize soon enough that I didn’t have to sound like Keith Jarrett before I could call myself a pro and have a career. I managed to thoroughly discourage myself, that I had basically given up at age 22. I did next to nothing with music from the time I got out of college until I turned 40. This is probably the most important and key period of one’s life for developing a career in any skill. You know what? It was not all humility and humbleness behind it either, a lot of it was pure ego, ”I don’t want to go out there until I can blow them all away!” That’s no good either.  Don’t make the same mistake as me. 

Steve Lukather, one of the best session guitarists in LA and a founding member of Toto once said, “you get paid the best for the dumb shit stuff.” I have talked to lots of session players who have expressed nothing short of bewildered amazement at how much money they’ve made playing two chords over and over again on some pop tune. By all means, get your formal training, but also get out there and play…and get paid for it, too! Great musicians and careers are only partially made in the practice room. You need to do both.

I want to stress this: this information is as much about the people who taught me as it is about myself. Without them, I would never have gotten as far as I did and would never have experienced the sheer joy and exhilaration that comes from performing, writing and teaching music. Even the most “self-taught” of musicians somewhere along the line spoke or consulted with a musician more experienced, accomplished, and wiser than he. YouTube videos are wonderful, but are no substitute for the knowledge and good intentions of a competent instructor. That being said, here is a bit of my own history.

My father was a professional photographer with Jet Propulsion Labs and when he was young, he played drums with a dixieland revival band back in the 40s. My mother was also an accomplished amateur musician herself, so I lived and grew up in a household where music was an important part of family life. Believe it or not, they also enjoyed rock and roll in addition to the jazz and classical music they had been brought up with. 

My mom liked Cream. Dad was partial to Emerson Lake and Palmer. My earliest memory is of being three years old and hearing Benny Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

I started learning guitar when I was eight, but building up calluses hurt too much! So I very quickly switched to piano and started studying with Mrs. Hull who lived a few blocks away from our house. Besides piano, she also played Hammond organ professionally, and although she taught me with traditional, classically-oriented lessons (John Thompson Method), she also got me interested in popular forms like jazz and rock. This continued until I was 16 when she said I should go study with a more jazz-oriented teacher who could get me into improv.

From there, I went to our local music store at the time, Music for Everyone, and began studying with a young woman named Ellen Porter who was only about five or six years older than me! She got me into Billy Taylor and Dave Brubeck and I basically played transcriptions note for note like classical music. Right about the time she started me into improv and playing by ear more, she had to leave to go to school in Oregon.

From there,I went to a music store in Pasadena called Berry and Grassmueck to study with a jazz pianist named Ronny Hoopes. Ron was a member of a whole gaggle of studio musicians who at the time did a lot of TV, movie and club work around Pasadena and Los Angeles.  Ron himself played with Ed Shaugussey’s band (Johnny Carson) on and off along with Gary Foster, Warne Marshe and Putter Smith, all of whom taught there. Along with lessons with Ron, I also played in a big band led by a trumpet player whose name I don’t remember.

Berry and Grassmueck closed down and the above teachers banded together and formed Nova Music Studios. It was located on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. I continued to study with Ron Hoopes until he left to go teach and perform in Mount Shasta and was replaced by Moacir Santos. Moacir was a Brazilian session musician who had relocated to Los Angeles. During this time, I also participated in several workshops led by Warne Marshe, Gary Foster and Putter Smith. 

Getting the chance to play and work with these outstanding musicians taught me a lot and unlocked abilities that would have never been realized in a practice room or with musicians that were my equals. I can’t begin to emphasize how important it is for an upcoming musician to work with and play with other musicians who are better than he/she no matter how humbling the experience may be. One of my classmates, Judy Niemack, went on to become an internationally known jazz vocalist and is now teaching and performing in Berlin.

From Pasadena, I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara to study composition. After having spent a year at Pasadena City College, getting my music theory basics in and taking a jazz improv class (big band) taught by Gary Foster.

While at Santa Barbara, I had the chance to attend classes taught by such luminaries as Edward Appelbaum and Peter Fricker to name just two. During the summers, I continued to study at Nova Studios and attend workshops.

In 1975, I became fed up with all the general education requirements needed to get my degree and dropped out of college to study with an internationally known classical pianist, Mario Feninger and his partner, Ian Brooks. Both Mario and Ian had developed techniques that enabled one to play difficult and technically-challenging music without pain, fatigue, discomfort or the repetitive stress injuries (such as tendonitis) that so often plague pianists and can even end careers. I was having numerous problems with pain and stamina so their teachings and methods were of great value to me.

Right about this time, the need to make a living impinged upon me and I had to make music a part-time activity. I continued to study with Mario and Ian up to about 1982 and continued to perform here and there in a solo capacity, doing the occasional event, mixer, wedding, etc. In 1994, I relocated to Northern Illinois and got serious about getting out there and making some money with rock and jazz bands. There seemed to be a demand for it and opportunities to actually make some money, conditions that were almost non-existent in Los Angeles. 

From 1994 to 2002, I worked with several rock or jazz ensembles as a weekend warrior and managed to achieve some recognition in the local music industry. There is nothing like using a skill you have spent a lifetime developing just for the love of it, and then realizing you are actually good enough at it to where people will pay you and pay you pretty well for it. Once you are there, you know you have arrived. Does that sound crass or overly commercial? Too bad. It’s the truth.

Around 2002, I relocated back to Los Angeles as I missed California. After two years of working various day jobs as a computer/phone system tech and finding the work stressful and underappreciated, I decided that it was time to use my skills as a musician to make an actual living, not just part-time income. I started teaching with A Sharp Studios in La Crescenta, California. I continued to work with them until 2009, at which time I went independent and moved up to Santa Barbara. I continued to teach full-time in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, handling as many as 40 students and also performed with rock and jazz bands, did auditions for musical theatre, played at church services, and also did solo work for various parties, mixers and weddings.

In 2014, I relocated back to Rockford, Illinois as performing paid better out here than out West. I retired in 2016, and have decided to revive my teaching career. This time may end up entirely online for reasons like ever-morphing viruses and the like. I’ve been giving individual Skype lessons for years and it has always worked very well. If you’re interested in individual help, give me a shout. I can hook you up and we can see if it will work for you.

That brings me to the whole point of this diatribe. Namely, who and what this website is for. 

It’s for guys like me! If you had the good sense, self discipline, raw determination and backup from friends and family to go to Berklee or Oberlin, or got to study privately with somebody like Charlie Banacos or Alan Broadbent, good for you. Well done. You have my utmost respect and admiration and I hope you have a long, prosperous and satisfying career. You might find some useful information on this site, but most of it will probably be old hat to you.

However, if the above does not describe you, you may be in the right place. This site is for people like the following:

  • You want to be a good weekend warrior
  • You want to be able to play like a pro 
  • You’re off to a late start and you’re checking things out
  • You love music haven’t made that decision to dedicate your whole life to it yet
  • You simply don’t have the resources needed to procure the necessary education to formally pursue music.

If you fit any of the above, or even if you don’t, I’m sure I can help you improve your playing. What the heck, a lot of what I’m offering is free, so you might as well take advantage of it, right?

I hope you’ll stick around and return often as we get things going around here. Speaking of which, there are others involved in putting this show on the road, for example, my wife, Brenda Rowe. She’s basically the one who makes the site run. She’s in charge of setting up the site, fixing my typos, and contributing articles now and then. If you notice her, that’s who she is and what she’s doing. 

See you around the site!

Scott Rowe