Johnny Cowell

Johnny (John Marwood) Cowell. Trumpeter, composer, arranger, b Tillsonburg, near London, Ont, 11 Jan 1926. His father and three uncles were members of the Tillsonburg Town Band, with which Cowell played his first trumpet solo at six.

Cowell, Johnny

Johnny (John Marwood) Cowell. Trumpeter, composer, arranger, b Tillsonburg, near London, Ont, 11 Jan 1926. His father and three uncles were members of the Tillsonburg Town Band, with which Cowell played his first trumpet solo at six. Largely self-taught, he did study briefly with Edward Smeale in Toronto on joining the Toronto Symphony Band as trumpet soloist in 1941. After serving during World War II as soloist with the Royal Canadian Navy band in Victoria, BC, and playing first trumpet 1943-5 with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, he studied composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCMT) with Oskar Morawetz and John Weinzweig.

He played trumpet with the dance bands of Stanley St John and Art Hallman, with Jack Denton's Palais Royale Orchestra, and on occasion with the Spitfire Band. In 1952 he joined the Toronto Symphony (TSO). In the mid-1970s he resumed his solo work, appearing with the TS and Canadian orchestras. A solo appearance with the TS 18 Jul 1991 in a tribute concert marked his retirement from that orchestra. Cowell then was soloist with the Hannaford Street Silver Band 1992-2001. In 1992 he also joined the Toronto Philharmonia, and in 1998 the Toronto Pops Orchestra.

Songs and Compositions

With his song 'Walk Hand in Hand' (1956) Cowell became one of Canada's most successful songwriters. Introduced by George Murray and recorded by Denny Vaughan, Tony Martin, Andy Williams, Vera Lynn, and others, the song was a major hit in both Britain and North America. Almost 150 of Cowell's more than 200 songs have been recorded, including the hits 'Just My Luck To Be 15' (1957), 'Strawberry Clam,' recorded by Al Hirt (1958), 'Stroll Along with the Blues,' featured in the Peter Sellers movie Two Way Stretch performed by Ted Heath (1958), 'Our Winter Love,' recorded in orchestral arrangements by André Kostelanetz, Lawrence Welk, Bill Pursell, and Hugo Winterhalter, and a major hit of 1963, and 'These Are the Young Years,' recorded by Floyd Cramer (1963). Cowell has made more than ten LPs and CDs of his songs and arrangements, two with orchestra and chorus for the Scope and CTL labels, and others of varying instrumentation for Cascade, Stone, Ampersand, Audat, Fanfare, and Broadland. Cowell also composed Roller Coaster (1969, commissioned by Seiji Ozawa), an encore piece performed by the TS, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and many other major orchestras in the USA and Canada; Anniversary Overture (1972), a CBC commission for the TS's 50th anniversary; Sangre de Toro Bravo (1974) for trumpet and orchestra; and a Trumpet Concerto (1978) premiered 18 Jul 1978 by the composer with the TS at Ontario Place and recorded on his CD Carnival of Venice. He has arranged works by Bach, Beethoven, Handel, and Satie for soloist and orchestra. Cowell has received BMI Canada certificates of honour for his most popular songs.


Further Reading

  • Hilliard, Harold. 'Story of a song,' Star Weekly Magazine, 9 Mar 1957

    Ferry, Antony. 'Canada's gift to Tin Pan Alley,' Canadian Weekly, 17-23 Aug 1963

    Duff, Maurice. 'Johnny Cowell,' MSc, 242, Jul-Aug 1968

    Kirkland, Bruce. 'Self-taught musician pens pop hits, classical concerto,' Toronto Star, 15 Jul 1978

    Levine, Sylvia. 'Cowell still bridging the gap between pop, symphonic music,' MSc, Jul/Aug 1982

    Bromfield, Mark. 'Musician produces classical album,' Toronto Star, 26 Jun 1984

    Hume, Christopher. 'Johnny Cowell,' TS Magazine, Apr-Jun 1985

    Citron, Paula. 'Retirement isn't the Last Post for trumpeter,' Toronto Star, 17 Jul 1991

    Ginsberg, Murray. They Loved to Play: Memories of the Golden Age in Canadian Music (Toronto 1998)