One of the founders of Oregon, Ralph Towner is one of the few modern jazz musicians to specialize in acoustic guitar. His playing often stretches beyond the boundaries of conventional jazz into world music and is quite distinctive. He started playing piano when he was three and trumpet at five, performing in a dance band when he was 13. Towner studied classical guitar in Vienna and played with classical chamber groups in the mid-'60s.
After moving to New York in 1969, Towner worked with Jimmy Garrison, Jeremy Steig, and Paul Winter's Winter Consort (1970-1971). In the latter group, Towner first met up with Collin Walcott, Glen Moore, and Paul McCandless, and in 1971 they broke away to form Oregon, a highly versatile group ranging from jazz and free improvisations to folk music. Towner (who guested with Weather Report in 1971 and played with Gary Burton a bit during 1974-1975) performed and recorded with Oregon extensively in the years after the group's formation, in addition to recording as a leader and with many other artists on the ECM label.
Wolfgang Muthspiel, Towner encountered Kazakhstan classical guitarist Slava Grigoryan, who suggested a collaboration. Towner assembled a tour in 2005, which presented each man as a soloist, in duets, and in trios. They began to play and tour together as a "band" whenever time would permit. The group's progress was first documented on From a Dream, issued on Muthspiel's Material label. Towner brought the project to ECM in 2012. The trio recorded in Lugano, Switzerland with producer Manfred Eicher, and released Travel Guide in the fall of 2013. Three years later, Towner joined Argentine saxophonist Javier Girotto and the ensemble Aires Tango for Duende. In 2017, Towner returned to the solo guitar format for My Foolish Heart on ECM.