A new wave of jazz is crashing over the US, and Kris Bowers is surfing the break. Born in California but living in New York, Bowers is extremely prolific. In 2011, he won the renowned Thelonius Monk Jazz Piano Competition, but he has long kept busy helping out a variety of fellow musicians. Bowers has recorded with Marcus Miller, José James, Vincent Herring, Ben Williams and Kenneth Whalum III. He has composed pieces for Ludacris, Murs and Q-Tip in addition to the masterful “Watch the Throne" for Jay-Z and Kanye West. Bowers' own debut, "Heroes + Misfits," was released in 2014 by Concord and established him as a unique talent and as a practitioner of eclectic jazz. An interview is overdue.
Kris, have you ever met jazz enthusiasts who are repulsed by the way you move between the genres? I did. And I do, all the time. Even friends of mine approach me and say that I don't play jazz anymore and that I'm not a jazz musician. I think any genre title is useless anyhow. It's just a name. It doesn't tell you anything about the music itself. If someone asks me what I play and I say jazz, it's like I haven't said anything at all. Because for one person that could mean the jazz of the old days and for another person that could mean Kamasi Washington and for a third person that could mean something completely different. You always have people who are very close-minded and think there's only one kind of jazz and it should include these or those characteristics. But if you think about jazz only from a historical perspective, it's going to turn into a museum. I don't want that to happen.
But there must be an explanation for the huge variety of genres you include in your music. It's my background. The music I grew up with was mostly my parents' music, and they listened to all kinds. Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, things like that. On top of that, as a kid I listened to whatever came on the radio. Things like Boyz II Men, Snoop Dogg, Dre, Eminem and Ludacris. Only after I went to high school did I really start listening to jazz.
And all of those influences are present in your music today? Of course they are. I forgot to mention all the film scores I listened to. And just recently, a lot of rock and indie has been added to the catalogue. It's only fair to include all of this in my own music, and not just one style. It's honest to who I am and what my musical identity is.