Bowie performing in the mid-1990s
October 11, 1941|
Frederick, Maryland, U.S.
|Died||November 8, 1999
Brooklyn, New York
Lester Bowie (October 11, 1941 – November 8, 1999) was an American jazz trumpet player and composer. He was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and co-founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Born in the historic village of Bartonsville in Frederick County, 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 and husband. He was a co-founder of Black Artists Group (BAG) 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 previously associated with Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Marilyn Manson, along with other material. His New York Organ Ensemble featured James Carter and Amina Claudine Myers. In the mid 1980s he was also part of the jazz supergroup The Leaders. Featuring tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, drummer Famoudou Don Moye, pianist Kirk Lightsey, and bassist Cecil McBee. At this time, he was also playing the opening theme music for The Cosby Show.
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. His affinity for reggae and ska is exemplified by his composition "Ska Reggae Hi-Bop", which he performed with the Skatalites on their 1994 Hi-Bop Ska, and also with James Carter on Conversin' with the Elders. He also appeared on the 1994 Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African-American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by Time.
In 1993, he played on the David Bowie album Black Tie White Noise, including the song "Looking for Lester", which was named after him. (Lester and David Bowie were not related - David Bowie's birth name was David Jones.)
Bowie took an adventurous and humorous approach to music and criticized Wynton Marsalis for his conservative approach to jazz tradition.
Lester Bowie died of liver cancer in 1999 at his Brooklyn, New York house he shared with second wife Deborah for 20 years. The following year he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2001, the Art Ensemble of Chicago recorded Tribute to Lester.
|Numbers 1 & 2||1967||Nessa|
|Gittin' to Know Y'All (features Bowie conducting the Baden-Baden Free Jazz Orchestra)||1970||MPS|
|Duet (with Phillip Wilson)||1978||Improvising Artists|
|The 5th Power||1978||Black Saint|
|The Great Pretender||1981||ECM|
|All the Magic||1983||ECM|
|Bugle Boy Bop (with Charles "Bobo" Shaw)||1983||Muse|
|Duet (with Nobuyoshi Ino)||1985||Paddle Wheel|
Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy
|I Only Have Eyes for You||1985||ECM|
|Live at the 6th Tokyo Music Joy (with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago)||1990||DIW|
|The Fire This Time||1992||In & Out|
|The Odyssey Of Funk & Popular Music||1999||Atlantic|
|When the Spirit Returns||2003 (recorded Oct. 1997)||Dreyfus Jazz|
Lester Bowie's New York Organ Ensemble
|Funky T. Cool T.||1992||DIW|
With the Art Ensemble of Chicago
With the Leaders
- Mudfoot (Black Hawk), 1986
- Out Here Like This (Black Saint), 1986
- Unforeseen Blessings (Black Saint), 1988
With David Bowie
- Black Tie White Noise (Savage, 1993)
With James Carter
- Conversin' with the Elders (Atlantic, 1995)
With Jack DeJohnette
With Brigitte Fontaine
- Comme à la Radio (Saravah, 1971)
With Melvin Jackson
- Funky Skull (Limelight, 1969)
With Fela Kuti
- No Agreement (Afrodisia, 1977)
With Frank Lowe
- Fresh (Freedom, 1975)
With Jimmy Lyons
- Free Jazz No. 1 (Concert Hall, 1969)
- Other Afternoons (BYG, 1970)
With Roscoe Mitchell
- Sound (Delmark, 1966)
With David Murray
- Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club (India Navigation, 1978)
With Sunny Murray
- Sunshine (BYG, 1969)
- Homage to Africa (BYG, 1969)
With Charles Bobo Shaw
- Under the Sun (Freedom, 1973)
- Streets of St. Louis (Moers Music, 1974)
With Archie Shepp
- Yasmina, a Black Woman (BYG, 1969)
- Blasé (BYG, 1969)
- Pitchin Can (America, 1970)
- Coral Rock (America, 1970)
With Alan Silva
- Seasons (BYG, 1971)
With Wadada Leo Smith
- Divine Love (ECM, 1979)
- Funky Donkey Vol. 1 & 2 (Atavistic) (Luther Thomas & the Human Arts Ensemble)
- Under the Sun (Universal Justice) 1974 (Human Arts Ensemble)
- Funky Donkey 1977 (Circle) (Luther Thomas Creative Ensemble)
- Free to Dance (Black Saint), 1979 (Marcello Melis)
- 6 x 1 = 10 Duos for a New Decade (Circle), 1980 (John Fischer)
- The Razor's Edge/Strangling Me With Your Love (Hannibal, 12"), 1982 (Defunkt)
- The Ritual (Sound Aspects), 1985 (Kahil El'Zabar)
- Meet Danny Wilson (Virgin), 1987 (Danny Wilson)
- Sacred Love (Sound Aspects), 1988 (Kahil El'Zabar)
- Avoid The Funk (Hannibal), 1988 (Defunkt)
- Environ Days (Konnex), 1991 (John Fischer)
- Cum Funky (Enemy), 1994 (Defunkt)
- Hi-Bop Ska, 1994 (Skatalites)
- Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool (Impulse!), 1994 (Various Artists) appears on one track with Digable Planets
- Bluesiana Hurricane (Shanachie), 1995 with Rufus Thomas, Bill Doggett, Chuck Rainey, Bobby Watson, Will Calhoun, and Sue Foley
- Buddy Bolden's Rag (Delmark), 1995 (Malachi Thompson & Africa Brass)
- Not Two (Biodro Records), 1995 (Miłość and Lester Bowie)
- No Ways Tired (Nonesuch), 1995 (Fontella Bass)
- Mac's Smokin' Section (McKenzie), 1996 (Mac Gollehon)
- Hello Friend: To Ennis with Love (Verve), 1997 (Bill Cosby)
- My Secret Life (Calliope), 1998 (Sonia Dada)
- Amore Pirata (Il Manifesto), 1998 (Lorenzo Gasperoni Mamud Band feat. Lester Bowie)
- Smokin' Live (McKenzie), 1999 (Mac Gollehon)
- G:MT – Greenwich Mean Time (Island Records), 1999 (Guy Sigsworth)
- Talkin' About Life And Death (Biodro Records), 1999 (Miłość and Lester Bowie)
- Test Pattern (Razor & Tie), 2004 (Sonia Dada)
- Hiroshima (Art Yard), 2007 (The Sun Ra All Stars Band)
- Kelsey, Chris. "Lester Bowie Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
- Voce, Steve (12 November 1999). "Obituary: Lester Bowie". The Independent.
- Ratliff, Ben (11 November 1999). "Lester Bowie Is Dead at 58; Innovative Jazz Trumpeter". The New York Times.
- "2000 Down Beat Critics Poll". Down Beat. Archived from the original on August 14, 2012. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
- Carles, Philippe; Clergeat, André; Comolli, Jean-Louis (1994). Dictionnaire du Jazz. Paris. ISBN 978-2221115923.
- Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; Priestley, Brian (1987). Jazz: the Essential Companion. London. ISBN 978-0135092743.
- Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2002). The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (6th ed.). ISBN 978-0140515213.