Pianist Kris Bowers is one of the newest and brightest lights on the music landscape. Schooled in jazz and classical music, raised amid the rap and hip-hop of the 1990s and inspired by the cinematic power of the great film composers of recent decades, Bowers’ sound – though rooted in traditional styles – is open to numerous external influences that keep the music fresh and vibrant.
Bowers' musical sensibilities were taking shape before he even saw the light of day. The story has it that his parents positioned headphones on his mother’s belly and piped soft jazz directly into his evolving consciousness in the months before he was born. And that was just the beginning...
We sat down with Kris before he left for his European Heroes and Misfits tour to ask him all about music:
At what age did you first pick up an instrument and which was it?
My parents actually put me into Suzuki lessons when I was about 4. So that was when I first started learning the notes on the piano, and how to read music. I had a small keyboard at home first, (one of those little Yamaha ones with colorful buttons!) and then a year or two later, my grandmother got me a small baby grand piano.
What is your fondest memory associated with music?
I really enjoyed being able to pick up songs on the radio and play them with my friends in middle school. Although my middle school had a pretty decent music program, it was still a regular old middle school. So, being a musician wasn't the coolest thing. But, being able to play Tupac, Nate Dogg, or Snoop Dogg songs definitely helped! It was what made me cool.
What can music do and what did it do for you?
There's really no limit to what music can do. It can simply make your day a bit better than it started out, or it can help create peace in turbulent times. I watched that Bob Marley documentary not too long ago, and it's amazing that Jamaican political officials asked him to come back and do a concert in order to settle the unrest and violence! That's beautiful.
For me, I've never been a very outspoken person, so I always found music to be my release. Whatever emotion I carry with me on the inside, is much easier to express via the piano and music than in words.
What are you most proud of?
There's a lot I'm very proud of, but for now, I'll say my first album. There was a lot that went into creating it, and making sure that it musically represented every aspect of music that I enjoy. Being a "jazz" artist, I felt that it was important not to make a more "traditional jazz" album, but instead, create something that was unique to me and what I enjoy (including and outside of "jazz").
What do you regret the most?
I regret not taking classical music more seriously when I was younger. I started off in classical piano lessons, and didn't enjoy it that much. I didn't connect to the music back then, and so I would practice the bare minimum in order to appease my teachers every week. Now, I love classical music, and have even been writing a bit. So, I think that having a stronger foundation and knowledge of the canon would help with my composition technique, as well as my playing technique.
Who are your heroes? It would be impossible to list them all, but a few are: Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Baldwin, Basquiat, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and Herbie Hancock.
What lessons would you pass on to your younger self?
Again, to take classical music more seriously for starters. But also, to be a little more carefree. I was raised to take everything very seriously, which I appreciate today. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on life because of that upbringing. That being said, I wish I let go a bit more as a kid, and didn't try to have control over every moment of my life.
What was an important learning experience for you?
This whole bandleader thing has been a crash course for me. I'm definitely learning a lot of this on the go. Things like working with a manager or an agent, booking gigs, having a band, financial issues, etc. It's almost as though the industry expects you to be aware of how everything works once you start off as a bandleader. But unfortunately, a lot of this information isn't taught in music schools. Or at least not in a practical way. No one tells you how to handle your personal finances as a self-employed musician. No one explains to you that you'll need to have a bit of capital in order to set up tours for your band. These are all things that I've learned in the last year as a bandleader, but I've enjoyed every minute of it.
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