Lester Bowie

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Lester Bowie (11 October 19418 November 1999) was a jazz trumpet player and composer. He was a member of the AACM, and cofounded the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Born in Frederick, Maryland, Bowie grew up in St Louis, Missouri. At the age of five he started studying the trumpet with his father, a professional musician. He played with blues musicians such as Little Milton and Albert King, and rhythm and blues stars such as Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, and Rufus Thomas. In 1965 he became Fontella Bass's musical director. He was a cofounder of BAG (Black Artists' Group) in St Louis.

In 1966 he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a studio musician, and met Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell and became a member of the AACM. In 1968 he founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago with Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, and Malachi Favors. He remained a member of this group for the rest of his life, and was also a member of Jack DeJohnette's New Directions quartet. He lived and worked in Jamaica and Africa, and played and recorded with Fela Kuti. Bowie's onstage appearance, in a white lab coat, with his goatee waxed into two points, was an important part of the Art Ensemble's stage show.

In 1984 he formed Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, a brass nonet in which Bowie demonstrated jazz's links to other forms of popular music, a decidedly more populist approach than that of the Art Ensemble. With this group he recorded songs popularized by Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Manson, and the Spice Girls. His New York Organ Ensemble featured James Carter and Amina Claudine Myers.

Although seen as part of the avant-garde, Bowie embraced techniques from the whole history of jazz trumpet, filling his music with humorous smears, blats, growls, half-valve effects, and so on.

Bowie took an adventurous and humorous approach to music, and criticized Wynton Marsalis for his conservative approach to jazz tradition. Nevertheless, Marsalis is on record as calling Bowie his favorite trumpeter.

References

  • Philippe Carles, André Clergeat, and Jean-Louis Comolli, Dictionnaire du jazz, Paris, 1994
  • Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather and Brian Priestley, Jazz: the Essential Companion, London, 1987
  • Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Edition, 2002

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