Founding members: Mer Boel, Ruth Roland, Hank Roberts, and Tim Reppert
Composer and violinist Mer Boel has a B.F.A. in jazz vocal performance with a minor in violin from City College of New York, where she studied and performed with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Matt Glaser of Fiddle Fever and the Berklee School of Music, and Ron Carter. She co-founded The Daughters of Sweden and original music group Cymbidium, and has written string arrangements for Karen Beth, Tom Knight, the Crow Greenspun Band and the Sim Redmond Band.
As a youngster she played in the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, later played with bluegrass bands The High Street Boys and The Purple Mountain Cowtippers, as well as performing solo. She has sung with the Gerald Wolfe Singers and the Robert Dale Chorale. Her composition "Meditation" for handbell choir received its premier performance in Ithaca, NY in February of 2000, and she received a "Meet the Composer" grant for the commissioned vocal chamber piece Mountains Swimming, which was performed by Women's Works with the 171 Cedar Arts Chorale in 2004. She presented a lecture recital on women in jazz music at the Festival of Women Composers in Pittsburgh, PA in 2004, and in 2005 three of her Name Music pieces were performed at the inaugural concert of the Grassroots Festival Chamber Orchestra. Her orchestra piece featuring French horns, Celebration of the Deep, was commissioned by the Ithaca Community Orchestra under the leadership of Cayenna Ponchione, and premiered in 2010.
Mer has composed underscores for the Kitchen Theatre Company and the Vermont Stage Company, most notably for the production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams directed by Rachel Lampert, Two Rooms by Lee Blessing directed by Rachel Lampert and The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl directed by Sarah Lampert Hoover.
Cellist Hank Roberts, whom Jazz Express magazine calls “One of the most respected improvising cellists on the international scene,” has toured extensively in Europe, Canada, Japan, and the U.S., leading his own ensembles playing avant-garde jazz. Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Roberts initially made his name in the 1980s legendary New York Downtown scene alongside such frequent collaborators as Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, Marc Ribot and John Zorn, finding a second home at the famed Knitting Factory. Currently a member of Bill Frisell’s group, Harmony, he has been a regular touring partner and recording artist on many of the celebrated guitarist’s projects since 1985, and was featured on his Grammy award winning recording, Unspeakable.
Over his nearly five-decade career, Hank Roberts has forged a compelling original voice as a cellist, vocalist and composer, encompassing jazz influences, abstract improvisation, soulful folk melodies, intricate new-music compositions and vigorous rock songs. He is considered a major innovator as a cellist. http://www.hankrobertsmusic.com/
Hank has shared stages and recording studios with some of the most celebrated musicians in the world.He’s recorded 10 albums as a leader and co-leader on the ‘Winter & Winter’ label, along with numerable self-released recordings. His 2008 CD Green, with drummer Jim Black and guitarist Marc Ducret, won that year’s German Recording Critics’ Award in the Jazz category. His trio recording, featuring Jacob Sacks and Vinnie Sperrazza, Congeries of Ethereal Phenomenon was released on Newvelle Records in 2019. His most recent recording with the Hank Roberts Sextet, Science of Love, was released on Sunnyside Records in July 2021.
Violinist Ruth Roland grew up playing Eastern European folk music with her father’s band. She has a bachelors’ degree in music from Michigan State and a masters’ degree in violin performance from the University of Minnesota. Before moving to Baton Rouge, LA, she was a member of the Binghamton Philharmonic and the Tri-Cities Opera Orchestra. She was a founding member of Women's Works, an annual celebration of women composers, was a visiting instructor at Cornell University, and has performed with artists such as George Benson, Smokey Robinson, and the Moody Blues.
Ruth has conducted and arranged for orchestra, including string arrangements of several of Water Bear’s Name Music pieces, and is also a published poet and performed playwright. Her opera After her stroke just before her 38th birthday, she re-taught herself to play violin and piano again, and maintains a full teaching schedule using concepts and exercises that worked well for her in her recovery. She performs regularly in the Opera Louisiane orchestra, and has played onstage with Nashville legend Brian White and in two productions of Always, Patsy Cline. https://ruthviolin.weebly.com/
Bassist Tim Reppert studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and has worked as a studio session musician in New York City, Boston, and Ithaca. As a recording engineer and producer Tim is known for his unique conceptual vision and masterful expertise when it comes to producing award winning audio for radio and television advertising as well as for films and corporate programs. He created REP Productions in the late 1980's in NYC as a freelance Recording Engineer for Jingle writers. Working with Mambo Music, Feldstein Music, Easy Writer, and Debbie McDuffie. He co-produced for clients such as L'Oreal, Coke, Coors Light, Hertz, and General Motors.
In 1991 Tim designed, built and opened REP Studio in Ithaca, which was an outgrowth of his many talents, and has become a creative environment that continues to support local artists such as the Sim Redmond Band, the Ithaca Community Chorus, the Burns Sisters, Wingnut, and Samite. Tim has recorded for diverse clients such as Sly Stone, Whitney Houston, The Beastie Boys, Grand Master Flash, and Kool & The Gang. For 11 years Tim was a resident Sound Designer for the Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, NY creating over 80 sound scores and compositions for the Company's wide range of productions. His sound design skills have also reached to Vermont Stage for Syringa Tree and to NYC for an off-Broadway production of The Soup Comes Last.
Tim is currently living in Boston and working as a freelance Sound Designer/Mixer for clients like Progressive Insurance, BMW, Wrangler, ZipCar, TJ Maxx, MIT, Carl's Jr, Hannaford, Siemens, ADP, IBM, WB Mason, Capella, Frontier Cellular, Bank of America, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Iron Mountain, Citi Cards, Liberty Mutual, HBO, Showtime, NBC, The History Chanel, EPIX, as well as custom music/jingle creation for Network Health, Floor Trader, Royal Caribbean, 1 800 Contacts and others. https://www.treppert.com/
Water Bear in 2006, recording the Live at the Congo CD
In 2003 Mer Boel, Ruth Roland, and Tim Reppert were joined by Chris White, Nate Richardson, and Bill Cowdery, with Ben Blechman joining after Ruth moved to Baton Rouge.
Chris White, cellist and composer, has a Masters in cello performance from Ithaca College, and is the founder of the New Directions Cello Association & Festival which he directed for 25 years http://newdirectionscello.org/. Based in Ithaca New York, Chris White has been exploring new directions for the cello since the late 1970’s. Whether playing in an intimate duo with piano or guitar, with a jazz string quartet, or with his groups the Cayuga Jazz Ensemble or the Cloud Chamber Orchestra, Chris’ playing has the vibrancy and the urgency of someone who is excited about what he is communicating. https://newdirectionscello.org/about/chris-white-2/
Chris performed with his jazz quartet at The First World Cello Congress (June 1988) and The Quinzaine de Montreal (April 1992). He performs regularly as a classical player with The Binghamton (NY) Philharmonic and frequently free-lances with chamber and jazz groups. An active private cello teacher, Chris is also on the faculty of The Community School of Music & Arts in Ithaca. He also gives workshops on improvisation for cellists. White has played on a number of albums by other artists including Joe Crookston, Jody Kessler, Water Bear, Tom Knight and Javier Ruibal.
Chris White’s latest album, “Song for Rob” was released in 2018. Prior albums include “First Principles” (2003), by Chris with the Cayuga Jazz Ensemble and “GRASS” by Cloud Chamber Orchestra. These are available on most streaming platforms. He has a book and CD method “Jazz Cello” newdirectionscello.org/product-category/books/ and has published articles on the history of jazz cello in STRINGS and downbeat.
Ben Blechman began studying violin at the age of 11 in Santa Rosa, CA with Dominic Dissaro. During High School he developed an interest in various improvisational styles while jamming with friends in the Santa Rosa area. He arrived at the University of California Santa Cruz in 1993, where he learned advanced classical technique and repertoire from violin virtuoso Roy Malan. While at UCSC he also studied jazz improvisation with jazz greats Ray Brown (trumpet) and Smith Dobson (piano).
Ben completed a BA in violin performance in 1997, and decided to stay at UCSC to get a masters degree. During his masters program he continued his development on the violin and also pursued his interest in electronic and computer music. After finishing school, Ben spent some time earning a living playing classical music. He has played with the Santa Cruz Symphony, the Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra with Roy Hargrove and Terrence Blanchard, and various other symphonies, string quartets, opera companies, etc. Ultimately, he found the classical music world to be unfulfilling, so he got a "day job" working for a computer music company as a software engineer.
He has spent most of his musical energy during recent years intensely studying jazz violin and other fiddle styles. Ben has performed with a number of groups in Santa Cruz, CA and the greater Bay Area including the Hot Club of San Francisco (filling in for Evan Price) and Frizz, an eclectic Jazz and Bluegrass string band. Since that time, Ben has played with various bands including, Frizz, Hot Club Pacific, Route5, the Djangophiles, Clambake, Vagabond Opera, and the 12th Ave Hot Club. He currently plays in Portland Oregon with Stumptown Swing, a gypsy-jazz band with Tim Connell and Mike Burdette.
Nate Silas Richardson, composer and multi-instrumentalist, grew up in Boston and studied Jazz Composition at Berklee, graduating in 1996. He has toured with John Brown's Body, North America's pre-eminent reggae band, and performed on their last three releases, plus releases by 10 Ft Ganja Plant, Eliot Martin, Adonai & I, Sim Redmond Band, and his own production, "Uproot", on I-Town Records.
Nate likes Malian kora music, music from all over the African Continent and has worked with Malang Jobarteh, Tani Diakite, Mamadou Diabate, and Balla Kouyate. He is a fan of American music from early 1900s, working with Dr. Bill Thomas of Changing Aging to take popular songs of that era and reimagine the tracks int the context of everything that has come since then, resulting in a CD and performance in 2013. Although Jamaican music from the 1970s remains his deepest long-running influence, he has toured with Samite and The Age of Disruption Tour, and has been studying jazz guitar with Steve Brown at Ithaca College. He is a sound engineer and producer, owner of REP Studio in Ithaca.
Bill Cowdery, pianist, serves as musical director and organist of the First Congregational Church in Ithaca, NY, and as an adjunct instructor at Cornell University. He has taught on the faculties of Ithaca College, Colgate University, and Keuka College as performer, musicologist, and theorist. Bill served for three years as director of Cornell University's Sage Chapel Choir, and has been a guest conductor of the Elmira Cantata Singers and the Colgate University Chorus.
A frequent soloist, accompanist, and lecturer at Bach festivals in the northeast, he has been a three-year fellow of the Bach Aria Festival at Stony Brook. Bill holds a PhD from Cornell for a dissertation on the early cantatas of J. S. Bach and has held a Fulbright Fellowship in England. He authored numerous articles in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music and the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (1996). Recently he co-edited The Compleat Mozart with Neal Zaslaw (Norton). His compositions include keyboard pieces, choral pieces and a children's opera called "Moses,” and he recently published a string quartet setting of Bach's Goldberg Variations (Presser).