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Kris Bowers: A Deeper Look into Heroes + Misfits

K. Shackelford By

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Kris Bowers is a pristine example of what the term prodigy embodies. In 2011, at the tender age of 22, he became the winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. Bowers also received an astute musical education at Julliard School of Music in New York—receiving a Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in Film Scoring and Jazz Performance before reaching the age of 25. Yet Bowers' style is not limited to traditional jazz. It is also shaped by the diverse musical genres he listened to on the radio as a kid, which makes his sound intriguing. He can interpret the latest Pop, R&B and Hip-Hop hits creating a sonically sophisticated mise en scène for listeners.

Earlier this year, Kris Bowers released his debut album Heroes + Misfits on Concord Jazz. The album features an auteurish and innovative mix of young musicians on today's jazz scene such as saxophonist/vocoderist/keyboardist Casey Benjamin, vocalist José James, drummer Jamire Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and other young jazz voices. Heroes + Misfits presents Bowers' compositions which exhibit exquisite and careful blending of sounds and color—provoked by an amalgam of issues surrounding life, love, and politics.

Like many jazz greats such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, Bowers is quite intentional about understanding his generation and creating music that is relevant. The title Heroes + Misfits was inspired by his studies on the generational theory of William Strauss and Neil Howe critically acclaimed books, Generations and The Fourth Turning. The Strauss and Howe theory argues four generation types that have a cyclical feature, and expounds upon the popular term "Millennials." Bowers intentionally pulled the concepts of "Heroes" and "Misfits" from his stimulating engagement with Strauss and Howe's theory.

Moreover, many would agree that Bowers is a rising star in the world of film and music composition. His resume includes scoring Chiemi Karasawa's Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (featuring Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey), and Sandy McLeod's Seeds of Time. Exciting upcoming projects include working with more Hip- Hop artists such as Q-Tip (he worked on Kanye West and Jay Z's Watch The Throne), saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III and scoring a film about NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant.

All About Jazz: Your album seems to be birthed not only out of your vast musical repertoire but also illuminates a personal cultural critique, particularly, as a result of your engagement with William Strauss and Neil Howe's 1997 book, The Fourth Turning? Tell us about how you discovered Strauss and Howe and how their work is related to the title Heroes + Misfits.

Kris Bowers: A lot of times, I'll be curious about something and I'll find myself going down the Google search "rabbit hole." Particularly, I was curious about how generations get their names. For example, why are we the "Millennial" generation or why is there one called Generation X? I was interested in how these names were created and wondered if there were any other names for my generation besides the "Millennials." In my research, I stumbled upon the Strauss and Howe theory.

First of all, the cyclical thing is interesting. According to the Strauss-Howe theory, certain aspects of culture, like the economy and politics, are all cyclical and these factors affect the growth and maturation of each generation. So the Strauss-Howe theory also presented that my generation was the 'Hero' generation. Thus, I thought it was very fitting that at the same time I was doing this research, Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street was happening. In addition, people were protesting about Trayvon Martin. I felt like my generation, for the first time in a while, was specifically expressing the power of their "voice" like young people during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's, or other important movements after that. So it was very fitting.

AAJ: I read in one place that you wanted your generation to understand the unlimited possibilities that can emerge from their life, their voice. I say this because you don't place limits on yourself. Everybody talks about how you are able to play anything. One person even said that your knowledge of music is "encyclopedic." Your music is also ensconced with a psycho-social consciousness that engages life, love and politics. So at what particular point did you say that I'm not going to be constrained by just one genre of music? How has that benefitted you?

KB: On some level, I've always felt that way. I had a period in high school where I was one of those "traditionalist" as far as jazz is concerned. I felt like if it didn't "swing" it wasn't jazz. I definitely thought that way for a period in high school but then I had to remind myself that we are in the 21st century. I grew up listening to a lot of diverse musical styles, just as much or arguably more than jazz. I felt it was important to be true to that reality and to not feel like I was letting jazz and the genre down by being open to other styles of music. When I got to college, I started playing with other musicians who played different genres of music and I started having fun with other styles, developing a respect for them. I feel like a lot of jazz musicians don't have respect for more contemporary stuff. They think it's easier to play. Yet, once I realized these styles were not easier and that each has its own difficulties—I began to see that being open to other music styles can only help you. Moreover, they can help each other the more you get good at them.

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