Touching on genres including new age, classical, jazz, and score composition, Ann Sweeten’s gentle, often stirring melodic piano music demonstrates technique as well as emotion. After her first solo recordings appeared in the late ’90s, albums such as 2005’s A Place in the Sun and 2014′s Tapestries of Time raised her profile both on instrumental radio and, later, streaming services, where tracks including the latter album’s “Send Me an Angel” garnered millions of plays. Appearing 26 years after her debut LP, 2023′s Love Walks Through Rain featured more of her typically sweeping arrangements built from piano and minimal accompaniment such as strings, solo flute, and acoustic guitar.
A performer from a young age, Sweeten was gifted a Hammond organ at the age of six (she had to stand to reach the pedals), the same year she began ballet classes in her hometown of Westfield, New Jersey. When she was nine, she got a Baldwin piano and began to study with concert pianist David Sokoloff, whom she cites as her most influential mentor. Sweeten continued to study both music and ballet into her teens, and eventually earned a Bachelor of Arts in languages from Smith College in Massachusetts. She fronted the pop/rock band FALLOUT for two years, then attended the Boston Conservatory, where she brushed up on skills related to musical theater including acting, singing, and dance. She went on to find work as a singer and pianist in places like clubs, restaurants, and resorts, and pursued roles in musical theater, appearing in shows like Chicago and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In the meantime, she began composing her own music in 1989.
Starting with 1997′s Prism, Sweeten began releasing recordings of her performances of her own contemporary instrumental compositions on her own label, Orange Band Records. Following 1998′s Passage, she had some moderate instrumental radio hits in North America with a string of albums including 2000′s Reflections, the next year’s Christmas Presence, and 2002′s Sapphire Days. Besides continuing her radio success, her sixth album, 2005′s A Place in the Sun, would rack up significant streaming numbers for years to come with its rousing, wistful piano melodies sometimes backed by light strings and, on rarer occasions, by instruments like solo flute. During this time, Sweeten began her run as an ASCAP Popular Award recipient, winning her first in 2002 and then annually through 2014 (though her consecutive streak was broken, she went on to collect the award several more times). Her further collections during this stretch included 2007′s Grey Sky and Bittersweet and 2009′s Just This Side of Spring. Released in 2011, In the Wake was her third straight album to be produced or co-produced by guitarist Will Ackerman, who rejoined her for 2014′s Tapestries of Time and 2016′s Where Butterflies Dance. Sweeten also released a concert album, Live at the St. George, in 2014.
Composed and performed by Sweeten on a Steinway Grand Model B, 2017′s Flying Solo Silhouette was also co-produced with Ackerman, as was 2019′s Before Today, Beyond Tomorrow, which found her joined by additional instruments like soprano saxophone and English horn, and featured synthesizer on two tracks. Its title referred to a leukemia diagnosis received during the album’s conception. The similarly orchestrated Change Is in the Wind followed in 2021, and Love Walks Through Rain arrived on Orange Band in 2023 and again featured Ackerman. ~ Marcy Donelson