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Lester

Bowie

It is hard to express our collective loss in Lester Bowie's passing. He had an impact that will survive through his contemporaries and their recordings. Here is an excerpt from a published biography.

From the 1970s, Lester Bowie has been the preeminent trumpeter of the jazz avant-garde -- one of the few trumpet players of his generation to successfully and completely adopt the techniques of free jazz. Indeed, Bowie has been the most successful in translating the expressive demands of the music -- so well-suited to the tonally pliant saxophone -- to the more difficult-to-manipulate brass instrument. Like a saxophonist such as David Murray or Eric Dolphy, Bowie invests his sound with a variety of timbral effects; his work has a more vocal quality, compared with that of most contemporary trumpeters. In a sense, he's a throwback to the pre-modern jazz of Cootie Williams or Bubber Miley, though Bowie is by no means a revivalist. Though he's certainly not afraid to appropriate the growls, whinnies, slurs, and slides of the early jazzers, it's always in the service of a thoroughly modern sensibility. And Bowie has chops; his style is quirky, to be sure, but grounded in fundamental jazz concepts of melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Bowie grew up in St. Louis, playing in local jazz and rhythm & blues bands, including those led by Little Milton and Albert King. Bowie moved to Chicago in 1965, where he became musical director for singer Fontella Bass. There Bowie met most of the musicians with whom he would go on to make his name -- saxophonists Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell and drummer Jack DeJohnette among them. He is member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and (in 1969) the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Bowie's various bands have included From the Root to the Source -- a sort of gospel/jazz/rock fusion group -- and Brass Fantasy, an all-brass, post-modern big band that's become his most popular vehicle. Bowie's catholic tastes are evidenced by the band's repertoire; on albums, they have covered a nutty assortment of tunes, ranging from Jimmy Lunceford's "Siesta for the Fiesta" to Michael Jackson's "Black and White."

Besides his work as a leader and with the Art Ensemble, Bowie has recorded as a sideman with DeJohnette, percussionist Kahil El'zabar, composer Kip Hanrahan, and saxophonist David Murray. He was also a member of the mid-'80s all-star cooperative the Leaders. Bowie's music occasionally leans too heavily on parody and aural slapstick to be truly affecting, but at its best, a Bowie-led ensemble can open the mind and move the feet in equal measure. -- Chris Kelsey,

1999 copyright All-Music Guide, AEC One-stop Group, Inc.

 

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