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Schawkie Roth

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  • Years Active: 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Schawkie Roth, born in Wisconsin in 1943, can be considered one of the pioneers of new age spiritual music. "Schawkie" (meaning "Jacques") is a Swiss nickname given to him by his father. His musical heritage comes from his maternal grandmother, who was an opera singer in Bohemia, and his family tree can be traced back to Czech composer Anton Dvorák. Roth began his musical career at the age of eleven by taking up the alto saxophone. Within a year, he began playing and improvising on the piano, and then added the tenor saxophone to his classical and improvisational studies. His piano playing reflected classical motifs, while his saxophone work eventually found its home in the heritage of modern, lyrical jazz. Music also became an integral expression of his interest in philosophy, religion, psychology, poetry, and painting.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Roth studied Zen Buddhism and majored in religious philosophy. Roth moved to California, where he studied chakra therapy (psycho-spiritual counseling) with Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri and received his master's degree in integral psychology. During this time, Roth also was involved in making bamboo flutes, writing poetry and playing jazz in various ensemble groups. In 1969, he met flutist Paul Horn, and began the practice of transcendental meditation.

Roth furthered his classical studies on flute and and received training on the East Indian bamboo flutes with East Indian flutist G.S. Sachdev. In 1971, he added the zither as a modal instrument for the channeling of spiritual music. Roth writes music for spiritual purposes, what he calls "channeling the Holy Spirit." He began recording this type of music -- combining saxophone, piano, zither, flute, bamboo flute, and nature sounds -- in 1977, and he can be heard on Steven Halpern's groundbreaking album Eastern Peace.

Roth explains his spiritual intent when talking about his 1978 album, Heaven and Earth: "With Love, this music has come forth into the world for the purpose of healing, upliftment, relaxation, meditation, and to soothe the souls. Feeling a deep sense of unity with the earth and also feeling the warmth and glow of the Transcendent Spirit, the first work to come forth was entitled Heaven on Earth to encourage all others to bring Heaven to Earth for the sake of healing ourselves and our planet as we are destined to do for our Creator and the Creation."

Roth continues to participate in the jazz world, however, with his Schawkie Roth Jazz Quartet or Quintet, the Schawkie Roth Jazz Trio, and Primordial Splendor, a seven-member Afro-Brazilian group with two vocalists, flute, saxophone, and five percussionists.