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Kris Bowers: Heroes + Misfits (interview)

On March 4, 2014, pianist Kris Bowers Concord Jazz debut release - "Heroes + Misfits," will hit the shelves and major digital outlets.

Album cover
Janette Beckman
Kris Bowers
Janette Beckman

Joining Bowers on this exploration of his times is a team of talented individuals, many of whom he has toured with over the past year or two. The roster of Heroes + Misfits includes: alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin, tenor saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III, guitarist Adam Agati, bassist Burniss Earl Travis II, and drummer Jamire Williams. Guest vocalists Julia Easterlin, Jose James and Chris Turner also lend a hand on four of the album’s ten tracks.

“Bringing this album into the world was a matter of figuring out how to create the most honest representation as possible of who I am as a musician and a composer,” says Bowers. “I wanted to take all the different types of music and all the different influences that are part of who I am, and make all of those things a part of my original compositions.”

Recently Examiner’s Samuel Archer had the opportunity to do an introspective interview with Kris about his music and debut album – “Heroes +Misfits.”

Sam - What made you pursue music?

Kris - I started when I was younger and my parents wanted me to play music as an extra curricular for some reason, and I guess when I was in high school, I went to an arts high school in Los Angeles and I think being surrounded by my peers that were doing the same thing, we were that serious about the arts and music specifically. Then I started playing shows around LA, and fortunately got involved with some of the competitions, so I think it was in high school where I said I could possibly only do this as a career.

Sam - So you used to sing also?

Kris - No, no. No singing (laughs).

Sam - Oh, I thought I heard you say you sang when you were younger (laughs).

Kris - No, no no, I said I started to play the piano when I was younger, but no singing.

Sam - I was going to ask you why were you holding out on us (we both laugh).

Sam - What are your instruments, is keyboards and piano your only instrument or do you play anything else?

Kris - No, that's it pretty much, I've been trying to teach myself other things but as of now that's all I can give.

Sam - Ok, and I noticed with this album you're working the technology aspect, are you getting into sequencing, production and beatmaking?

Kris - Yeah, I'm definitely getting into production and stuff like that. I took that approach seriously for my album and this is my first time producing anything, I think I have an ear for it; I had a lot of fun trying to get what I envisioned to come out.

Sam - How would you describe your sound?

Kris - Uhm, I don't know, I guess (we both laugh), this is a hard one, you see I grew up playing jazz, so jazz is always going to be there on some level even if someone doesn't want to call it traditional jazz on the surface, I can't help but be a jazz musician, but I also listened to hip-hop and R&B at home and some indie rock stuff as I got older. I listened to a lot of film scores and classical music, so I think it's a combination of a lot of that stuff.

Sam - Ok, so it's primarily jazz with current mainstream influences mixed together or something like that?

Kris - yes

Sam - So you were the winner of the Thelonius Monk competition in 2011, what was it like to prepare for that?

Kris - Ultimately we've been preparing for it all our whole lives (talking about him and other contestants), working on our instruments and for this specific competition I worked on the songs I wanted to play but nothing more than the usual preparation I do for getting better on the instrument. During the competition it was pretty daunting playing for all my favorite piano players (Herbie Hancock, Jason Moran, Ellis Marsalis, Danilo Perez and Renee Rosnes), individuals that I've definitely taken a lot from in terms of how I play, so it was great performing for them and in the competition is where I had the chance to meet Aretha Franklin, it was pretty incredible meeting her.

Sam - wow, you made it through that star-studded judge panel, and I'm sure meeting the Queen of Soul will be incredible. So, who are your hip-hop influences?

Kris - Definitely listened to A Tribe Called Quest, when I was younger I listened to a lot of Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Nate Dogg. Now I like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West.

Sam - I was checking out your interpretation of the Kendrick Lamar joint there (went blank on the name of the song).

Kris - oh, yeah, Rigamortus

Sam - Rigamortus, I thought it was cool with the video, seeing you prep the piano, and coordinating the various tones, it was nice.

Kris - Thank you

Sam - What's in your player right now?

Kris - It's pretty random, Kendrick Lamar, this band called 'Churches' from London, actually a lot of UK artists, Everything Everything, is a band from Manchester, Laura Mvula, She's incredible.

Sam - What other projects you have coming up?

Kris - There're some things I've worked on that's not released as yet, like Jose James, Kenneth Whalum III, one of the singles called "Away," featuring big K.R.I.T has been released. Kenneth's album should be out later this year. I scored a couple of films and one just came out about Elaine Stritch, who's a Broadway actor (Shoot Me) and I scored another film called "Seeds of time," which is premiering next week down at SXSW.

Sam - Man you're killing it (both laugh)

Sam - What inspired the title for the album?

Kris - It's about this era and my generation, our connection to technology, and also our connection to one another because of technology and also the access to information we have. Before I even started work for the album, I was kind of hoping that my generation would drive some type of shift or change in society. The 60s was the Civil Rights, the 70s was the Peace Movements, and the 80s was Gay Rights and things like that. It started happening for my generation in 2011 with Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street and stuff like that. I looked into generational theories, which discuss the four archetype for generations, one of those generations is the Hero generation and it so happens that my generation (millennial) is the archetypal hero generation, so I thought that was fitting for what's happening in our society and on the misfit side is just about the idea that it's more and more celebrated, lauded and unique to be a misfit. So there's a positive about being a misfit and those two things go hand in hand because most times the misfits are the heroes in society.

Sam - What are you hoping to accomplish with this album?

Kris - I hope that people hear the music and feel something from it. A lot of the pieces have emotion tied to them whether it is happy or sad or about love or what ever it is. I hope that I conveyed enough so that when people listen to it they feel a certain way.

For more information, follow Kris Bowers at the following links:

Social Media:

Press Release

Upcoming performance dates:













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