FIVE THINGS You SHould KNOW ABOUT
August 31, 2021 | by Rusty Aceves
Kris Bowers (photo by Molly Cranna)
Our opening night artist in Miner Auditorium is one of the finest young pianists and composers in jazz, though his creative reach extends beyond the bandstand to his second career as a film and television composer. Here are five things you should know about the multi-talented artist before joining us for his historic opening night performance.
- Kris Bowers is one of the great young pianists and composers working today.
A native of Los Angeles, Bowers’ career as a pianist was seemingly preordained. His parents were known to put headphones on his mother’s stomach during her pregnancy and play piano music constantly, and they began him in music classes at age four. He studied jazz with Mulgrew Miller at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and attended the Colburn School for classical training before moving to New York to attend Juilliard for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
While still a student, Bowers released his debut album, Blue in Green, for the Japanese M&I label in 2010— a trio session recorded in 2008 with bassist Ben Williams and drummer Clarence Penn consisting primarily of standards.
A huge leap forward in confidence and experience marked his 2014 Concord Records follow-up, Heroes + Misfits. The album blends his jazz training with the undeniable influences of contemporary R&B, electronic music, and the impressionistic style that would become an intrinsic part of his soundtrack work, debuting at #1 on the iTunes jazz chart. .
- He’s a popular collaborator, and a multiple award winner.
While still at Juilliard, Bowers made his major recording debut on the 2011 Jay-Z and Kanye West collaborative album Watch the Throne, and the same year as that release, won the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, wowing a heavyweight panel of judges including Renee Rosnes, Jason Moran, Danilo Pérez, Ellis Marsalis, and Herbie Hancock.
Bowers hit the road with bass genius Marcus Miller the following year, appearing on his 2012 release Renaissance — the pianist’s first lengthy stint as a sideman and collaborator, and he performed at the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert, backing veterans Benny Golson and Frank Wess.
Since then, he has appeared on albums by SFJAZZ Collective trumpeter Etienne Charles, legendary drummer Harvey Mason, trumpeter Takuya Koroda, vocalist José James, and iconic hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, among others.
In addition to his Monk Competition triumph, Bowers was named one of DownBeat’s “25 For the Future” in 2016, won a Daytime Emmy for his music for Amazon Studios’ 2016 animated holiday film based on Ezra Jack Keats’ children’s book The Snowy Day, and was awarded the ROBIE Pioneer Award from the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 2019.
- He has built a very visible second career as a film and television composer.
The seeds for Bowers’ life as a film composer were planted back in 2010, when he contributed the music to director Kathleen Jayme’s short film Little Big Kid, and expanded with his first major score for Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, Chiemi Karasawa’s 2013 documentary about the Broadway icon.
Over the last eight years, Bowers has become a major soundtrack composer, contributing scores to the feature films Little Boxes (2016), Monsters and Men (2018), Green Book (2018), The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021), Respect (2021), Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021), and the upcoming King Richard (2021).
His work for television includes Dear White People (2017), For the People (2018), When They See Us (2019), Black Monday (2019), Bridgerton (2020), and Mrs. America (2020). Finally, Bowers has contributed music to the sports documentaries Kobe Bryant’s Muse (2015), I Am Giant: Victor Cruz (2015), and Play It Forward (2015) as well as EA Sports’ Madden NFL video games.
- This solo performance will bring together facets of both his life as a jazz musician and his soundtrack work.
Bowers’ season-opening show will feature improvisations based around his memorable film and television themes, re-imagining them with expanded approaches and dramatic new interpretations. Freed from the specifically tailored requirements of a soundtrack, Bowers’ music will take on new dimensions, but the music itself is only part of the show. Larger themes inspired by the music will be explored through poetry and video elements created for this performance, utilizing SFJAZZ’s stunning new immersive media system. More on this below.
- In addition to being an incredible night for music, the concert will also be an unforgettable visual experience.
For this special night of music and visuals, Bowers will be breaking-in Miner Auditorium’s new immersive digital media system pioneered by Obscura Digital that turns every flat surface of the auditorium into a potential screen, projecting intensely powerful 3-D images, video, and effects that envelop the audience and performer. Paired with an artist whose music provides the beating heart of so many popular movies and television productions, one can imagine the transformative visual dimension this system can provide. Look for more information about Kris Bowers and the immersive media system in an upcoming interview by SFJAZZ writer Richard Scheinin.
Kris Bowers interview by Michelle Miller on CBS This Morning
August 22, 2018Designed To Connect: Inside The Joe Henderson Lab at SFJAZZ