Pianist/keyboard player/composer Kris Bowers says the title of his debut album "Heroes + Misfits" refers to his generation. The “heroes” of the protest movements from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter, and the “misfits” he sees in his peers’ drive to be individuals with their own style and personality.
That sounds like a generation of jazz fans to me.
Like most of his contemporaries, Bowers grew up on his parents’ classic soul records and his schoolyard hip-hop. Serious piano study included plenty of classical music, and at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Bowers developed a passion for jazz which was enhanced by his early mentor Mulgrew Miller.
Further jazz education at Juilliard culminated in a first-place prize at the prestigious Monk Institute Competition in 2011, and his career began in earnest.
An early opportunity put Kris together with Jay Z and Kanye West around the time of the Monk win, but I was first struck by his acoustic and electric chops on 2013 albums from both trumpeter Etienne Charles and the Next Collective. His soulful, searching chops popped up on excellent albums from New Cool favorites Jose James and Takuya Kuroda, and also saw the release of his debut, "Heroes + Misfits."
All original compositions, the music is a fresh, personal look at his varied musical interests. From his Stevie Wonder youth to hip-hop rhythms, rock song structures, classical flourishes and three equally eclectic vocal features, Bowers sets out the base of his musical personality. How he evolves from this place should be interesting.
You can hear Kris Bowers music in the new TV series "Dear White People" as well as several recent films and documentaries, including a Daytime Emmy nomination for his music for the animated feature "A Snowy Day."
On this week’s New Cool, dig his chill out tune “Drift” featuring Casey Benjamin’s two overdubbed sax parts and Jamire Williams’ loose marching drum and rock rhythms beneath Bowers’ combination synthesizer and acoustic piano. Hopefully the film and television work allows for more of this Kris Bowers soon.
The New Cool airs Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.