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Cowell, Henry (11 March 1897–10 December 1965), composer, pianist, writer, and educator, was born Henry Dixon Cowell in Menlo Park, California, the son of Harry Cowell and Clarissa Dixon Cowell. Both parents were aspiring poets and writers; Harry, an Irish immigrant, worked as a linotypist. At the age of five Cowell began studying violin and showed signs of talent, but the lessons seemed to affect his health adversely and were discontinued. His parents divorced in 1903. Between 1907 and 1910 he and his mother lived in New York, penniless while she tried to earn a living by her writing, and stayed with relatives in Iowa and Kansas. In 1910 they returned to Menlo Park, where Cowell took jobs such as herding cows to support himself and his mother. Around this time Cowell came to the attention of the psychologist ...

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Godowsky, Leopold (13 February 1870–21 November 1938), pianist, teacher, and composer, was born in Soshly, a small town not far from Wilno (now Vilnius) in Lithuania, the son of Mathew Godowsky, a physician, and Anna Lewin, both Polish Jews. When his father died of cholera eighteen months after Godowsky was born, the boy and his mother moved to nearby Schirwinty. There Godowsky came under the influence of Louis and Minna Passinock, who were friends of his mother’s. Neither of Godowsky’s parents was musical; the childless Passinocks, however, were amateur musicians and enthusiastic music lovers, and they immediately recognized Godowsky’s nascent musical ability. Louis Passinock, a violinist who ran a secondhand piano shop, began teaching Godowsky to play the violin when he was seven years old. Passinock discouraged him from learning to play the piano, on the theory that there were too many pianists, but his wife recognized Godowsky’s affinity for the instrument and encouraged his keyboard explorations. Godowsky basically taught himself to play the piano; by the age of five he was so advanced that he could play the transcription of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor. He later vividly described his early attraction to the piano. “With me,” he wrote in ...

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Stewart, Slam (21 September 1914–10 December 1987), jazz string bassist, bandleader, and educator, was born in Englewood, New Jersey. Nothing is known of his parents or his real name. He was raised as Leroy Elliott Stewart, but he said, without offering details, that a different name is on his birth certificate. His adopted father was a caretaker and gardener. Stewart started on violin at age six or seven and switched to string bass while in high school in Englewood....

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Tristano, Lennie (19 March 1919–18 November 1978), jazz pianist and teacher, was born Leonard Joseph Tristano in Chicago, the son of Michael Tristano, a pharmacist, and Rose Milano. His parents were first cousins and both were musical: his mother played piano and harmonium and had studied voice as a girl in hopes of an operatic career. His father played the guitar and sang popular songs....