At the start of the second set at Greenwich Village’s Jazz Gallery last week, pianist Kris Bowers played for a packed and eager house. A packed, eager, young, and particularly diverse house, to be more exact, with a look, vibe and mood much closer to a college music festival than what the typical jazz audience tends to resemble. For a brief moment, I thought I was having auditory hallucinations with the amount of hoots and hollers being emitted from young, female voices. It is a rare occurrence within the jazz club setting. In Bowers’ performance debut as a leader, that would not be the last series of eyebrow-raising observations.
Bowers’ band for the evening was an assemblage of up-and-coming fresh faces in jazz with saxophonists Kenneth Whalum III and Godwin Louis, trumpeter Mike Cottone, bassist Earl Travis, and drummer Joe Saylor. The band of twenty-somethings played with a fire and focus beyond their years, performing an impressive amount of original material. Bowers, who is an orchestrator, founder of a music company, and appears on the most significant hip hop album of the 2011, closed the moving set with a song from Bon Iver, the cutting edge indie folk band, which has been riddled recently with Grammy nominations. At twenty-two years old, it would be impossible to prognosticate a journey which is just beginning, but it is clear that Kris Bowers is setting a precedent of individuality, pushing the jazz envelope with a fierce, yet understated momentum.
If I’ve misled you to believe that his musical boundlessness and vast experience compromises his significance as a bonafide jazz musician, let me set that record straight nice and early. He is a tremendous pianist, with a world of history underneath his fingers and a wise restraint balanced by a conspicuously original sound. He’s a bad cat. He convinced a panel of pianistic paramountcy (which included Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Danilo Pérez, Jason Moran and Renee Rosnes) of just that, taking first place at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition earlier this year, beating out some of the best undiscovered pianists in the world. An experience Bowers described as nothing short of nerve-racking, “I was nervous, definitely. Because you know, those were like all of my favorites [on the judging panel]. I hadn’t really met any of them…I knew Jason [Moran] but other than that I hadn’t met any of them, so to be playing all this stuff that I pretty much got from most of them [laughs] I was trying to…play the best that I could.”
Bowers’ New York state of mind has proven to be a wise one many times over. If you’re going to be in the right place at the right time, New York is always a good place to start. Twists of fate work their magic best in The Big Apple, as Bowers explains how a chance subbing gig landed him on the Kanye/Jay-Z magnum opus, Watch the Throne. “Casey [Benjamin] plays with Q-Tip and he was on tour with [Robert] Glasper, and he recommended me to do this gig at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, and it just so happened that at that gig, there were special guests like Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Monie Love, and Kanye, and at the time they were finishing up a couple tracks from Watch The Throne that Tip was working on, and they wanted me to play some string parts on one song, and to write some piano parts on this other song, so it kind of all happened in a matter of days.”
Writing string parts was likely no tough task, as you can add budding film scorer to Bowers’ resume. “That’s something I definitely want to get into, honestly more than playing…especially eventually,” admits Bowers. “I’d love to be able to dig into that. I’ve always admired the role that music plays in a film and how it helps tell the story and how great music can enhance a film and bad music can ruin a film…just how much power the music has. And also that it’s a literal translation of emotion; trying to compose and trying to write music that sounds scary, or sounds like this person is falling in love, or this person is angry…”
With so many facets to Bowers’ career, and his vast musical inclinations, it’s exciting to think about what is in store in terms of his debut album, scheduled for an early 2013 release on Concord. “I have a couple of ideas, a couple of special guests brewing who are pretty awesome,” says Bowers who is currently forming his band, something about which he is particular. “The main thing I’m going for with the band is that I want to feature a band full of guys in our generation. Just because I feel like a lot of these guys with their first albums, it’s just [about] names and they have these veterans, and that’s understandable…but I feel like playing with the people I’m friends with and who I know are going to put as much energy [into the record] as possible. They’re not just doing it for a paycheck.”
He elaborates further taking a cue from a master with whom he shared recent company. “Like Herbie’s debut album Takin’ Off. He had Dexter Gordon — he was a veteran — but everybody else on the record was around Herbie’s age. Even though now they’re jazz legends, at the time they were just like one of Herbie’s contemporaries, so I feel like what I want to do is play with people who are my contemporaries.”
There is certainly no shortage of worthy peers from which Bowers can choose. The well of young talent in jazz today is startling; most notably on Bowers’ own instrument, particularly as it pertains to African Americans. Not in the last fifteen years (at least) has there been such a surge of rising Black pianists, all making their mark in the same generation. Bowers is in great company with the brilliant likes of Sullivan Fortner, Christian Sands, David Bryant, Joshua White and Johnathan Batiste, to name a few. “It’s pretty great,” says Bowers of the strong representation. “I remember even being in high school and kind of realizing that there were like three black kids in the jazz department…in an arts high school…in LA. And when you think about the fact that this is our music…so yeah, it’s pretty great to see some young, Black piano players and all be kind of on the rise.”
And climbing fast.
Getting To Know You…
AT: Who are your favorite pianists of now?
KB: Well, of people closer to my age, I would say Sullivan Fornter is one of my favorites, and also John Batiste. Also, Lawrence Fields, Gerald Clayton, [Robert] Glasper, Aaron Parks…
AT: Do you have any favorite albums that came out this year?
KB: That new Thundercat album. (Incidentally, that’s one of my favorites of this year also…but you’ll have to wait for the Alternate Takes Best of 2011 post for more details!)
AT: What are your favorite Hip Hop albums?
KB: The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest. That’s definitely one of my favorites.
AT: The last thing you listened to on your iPod?
KB: Bon Iver
AT: Name one person you would love work with?
KB: Quincy Jones
Kris Bowers performs Saturday, January 28th at the TriBeCa Performing Arts Center at 199 Chambers Street; (212) 220-1460, tribecapac.org.
Quincy Jones, huh? Good answer…
He sounds like a great artist!
I thought the same thing! Thanks for the post!
It’s hard to make it in the music field, or in any of the arts. I wish him luck in this career.
Thank you for the post!
Oh God — darest i hope that REAL music is again on the rise? With — God forbid — actual talent and instruments on the rise?
I darest’nt, i would hate to have the universe prove me wrong for a cosmic prank.
Unrelated note — i have a dear friend and female Jazz’esque vocalist who is looking for venues to showcase her talent in. Any suggestions for places that i can direct her to (She’s rehearsed, she’s got her band, she sounds AMAZING, and hasn’t had a gig at a place with real fans of the Genre yet.)?
You know, I was just thinking that myself! Please let REAL music be awakening again. I am quite tired of the dull and canned music that is considered melodious. They can’t fool me!
Yes! I think there is a renaissance happening in music, and jazz in one of the strongest catalysts in the movement. And it’s about time! I too, am tired of crap being revered.
LOL! It’s true…they’re out there! It’s not a dream!
What city does your friend live in?
NYC!! I’m here in Astoria, and so’s she! Figured you might know how i can help her — she’s got one heck of a set of pipes on her 🙂
If you find time, and know of any, plz e-mail me 🙂 email@example.com
I guarantee I’ll get the first round when your there for her debut!
I love this! Great write up. Its great to see young men doing positive things!
I agree. Thank you for your kind words!
Decided to look up videos of Kris playing and I found his rendition of Blue Monk from the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. He’s definitely very talented and I hope he continues to find success.
Yes! I actually started to post that video in the piece. He really brings something special to that tune, and that’s no easy job in my opinion. Monk is a genius.
Another example of the least known producing the best music.
As a classical guitarist myself (albeit not a very good one :P) I have always enjoyed peering into the lives and methods of other musicians. I want to thank you for this interview, it was great! 🙂
Ha! You’re welcome! 😀
What a musician! Your article caused me to look him up, incredible! I also liked, in the article, and specifically in the interview section, where he answered questions about his favorite _______. He mentioned hip hop artists, jazz pianists, and acoustic/indie sensation Bon Iver. It’s wonderful to see other musicians who are able to draw from a number of different artists and genres as inspiration and avoid limiting their creative edge by casting themselves into one very specific world musically.
SUper well said! I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for such a thoughtful post…
Cannot wait for 2013!!! Thank you for your insight into this new musician (I hesitate to use the word “talent”, as I sense that inadequately describes dedicated musicians…).
What a great entry 🙂
An amazing insight! What a fantastic artist
Great work! Smooth as jazz!
There is no end to my love for you. What an ear you have on you!! To boot, you are deadly with a pen, prognosticate :). Yet again, you have given us another wonderful post highlighting an artist that should not be missed. I listened to Hope and it brought tears to my eyes, nothing short of beautiful.
I’m also deadly ill at the crap that passes for music these days and just the thought of a musical resurgence, especially on the jazz front, has me twinkling. Thank you!
You are such a light. Support from someone as brilliant and beautiful as you means a LOT. I want you to know that. And AMEN to that last paragraph!!! Amen, and amen.
Thank you, sis. So much!
Very hot …thanks for bringing light to such a talented performer!!
Great post. Definitely an interesting read.
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It’s a shame that people who aren’t well known make the most amazing music!
Very well written and easy to read I actually really enjoyed reading this, good post very informative and easy to read. I have added this blog to my bookmarks.
Great post! Thanks for introducing me to this young artist! I can almost hear him through your writing.
I look forward to reading more of your posts and congrats on the FP
Thank you so much!
He sounds fantastic. Given the varied genres of music that he is into, it should hopefully translate into an awesome album
It is refreshing to read your posts, this one in particular. This artist deserves the recognition not only for his talent but also because it is apparent that he is passionate and knows the industry based on the wide span of other artists and genres that he favors.
The review and interview captured my curiosity. I will follow Kris Bowers-definitely.
As a fan of NPR and their many wonderful music programs / featured artists, I was happy to see this post! Congrats to you on being being freshly pressed and to Kris for winning the Thelonious Monk Competition. He is an extremely talented and versatile musician!
If Herbie Hancock says he’s okay, then that’s good enough for me.
Very interesting.Hope to see you soon in Canada!
I’m so impressed! I hope when his CD comes out I’ll remember enough to check it out. Thanks for sharing. Jazz piano is something I should listen to more. 😀
so i’d never heard of him, and after reading your blog decided to check out his music. i’m a music enthusiast, and appreciative of many genres. he’s amazing! talented and classy and seemingly charming. thanks for sharing!
Great post. Definitely an interesting read. You’ll like this,..
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This is an awesome post. I love JAZZ & its not often you hear about nuiances such as this & their artists so this is great! 🙂
Check out my “few” posts & follow me on Twitter too Angelika @OhSoQuaint
This is an amazing write-up
You can tell he exhibits passion and sophistication at it’s finest.
Thank you! He really does!
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keep going, we need more soulfull music in the industry today and I dont mind a little after a long day. I’m actually learning some piano myself. 1coffeehouse.wordpress.com
Fantastic article, Angelika, and I think I’ll check-out the Jan 28th concert, as it is the same day as my birthday.
What a great interview, he’s going to be very influential one day.
Kris Bowers! On my Chritmas CD list…Thank you! I hope Mr. Bowers checks out Bobby McFerrin….a timeless musical genius!
I don’t even know him and I already like him. Great Post!
Great job. Hope all the best for him. He sounds talented and eager.
wow… and have to add, i love Thelonious Monk!!!!!!!!
there is a piano in the 650 or 415 or 510 with his name on it we hope
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Sounds like a cool artist!
Great write up & quite inspirational. I’ll have to check him out & maybe we’ll see him in Chicago
This is a wonderful post! Congratulations on being freshly pressed.
I love to see more of us succeeding and pursuing dreams! I will continue to look out for this rising artist Mr. Bowers.
Merci for sharing! 🙂
Great post. Congrats on being freshly pressed! I am going to check him out. Cheers.
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Awesome! cant wait to check him out!
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he sounds like a georgeus artist!
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