The Rova Saxophone Quartet was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in October 1977 by Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt and Bruce Ackley. The ensemble performed its first concert at the 3rd Annual Free Music Festival at Mills College in Oakland, California, in February 1978. Inspired by a broad spectrum of musical influences-from Charles Ives, Edgard Varese, Olivier Messiaen and John Cage to John Coltrane, Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy and Ornette Coleman-Rova began writing new material, touring, recording (its first album Cinema Rovaté was released on Ochs' Metalanguage label) and collaborating with such like-minded colleagues as guitarist Henry Kaiser and Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo. Early in its history, Rova performed both at the Vancouver New Music Society (1978) and the Moers International Festival of New Jazz in Germany (1979).
Over the next few years Rova performed widely throughout North America and Europe, and in 1983 it became the first new music group from the U.S. to tour the Soviet Union. Saxophone Diplomacy, a documentary video of the tour, was aired on PBS throughout the U.S. 1983 also saw the release of the landmark recording Favorite Street - Rova Plays Lacy. In 1986, Rova (which had incorporated as a not- for-profit organization the previous year) hosted the Ganelin Trio, the first Soviet jazz group to appear in the U.S. The trio performed with Rova in the first of the Pre- Echoes series of collaborative events, which would later include concerts with Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Terry Riley and others. The Pre-Echoes series ended in 1990 with the installation piece Occupancy, a collaboration with architect Howard Martin. Founding member Andrew Voigt left Rova in August 1988 and was replaced by Steve Adams, formerly with the Boston-based Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet. Rova returned to the USSR in November, 1989 and released a CD of music recorded on the tour, This Time We Are Both.
Highlights of Rova's prolific career in the '90s include appearances at the Yokohama Jazz Promenade in Japan; the Vancouver Jazz Festival; the San Francisco Jazz Festival and the Festival Internationale Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (Quebec, Canada); the Documenta IX International Art Exhibition in Kassel, Germany; a piece created for performance in the Ludwig Wittgenstein Museum, Vienna, Austria; concerts with Alvin Curran in Switzerland, Croatia, Germany, Portugal and the U.S.; appearances in Chicago, Milwaukee and Toronto for the New Music Across America Festival; a twentieth anniversary celebration presented by SFJAZZ; creation of the piece Resistance for sax quartet and four DAT machines for ORF, the Austrian National Radio; and the triumphant 30th anniversary presentation of John Coltrane's Ascension in San Francisco. Quartet members were also commissioned to write music for Rova by both Meet the Composer and Chamber Music America.