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Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie
November 8, 1999
Age 58
 
 Liver Cancer 
 
OBITUARY 
BIOGRAPHY  
LINKS 
Discography
 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
        
 
 
 Trumpeter Lester Bowie Dead At 58 

       NEW YORK (AP) -- - Jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie, a founding member of the long-running Art Ensemble of Chicago, has died from complications from liver cancer. He was 58. 

 Bowie died Monday night at his Brooklyn home, said Kevin Beauchamp, a representative of the Art Ensemble, the jazz group Bowie helped found in 1969. 

 The group has played the United States and Europe for 30 years. 

 Bowie, who also played the fluegelhorn, was known as a flamboyant performer with a sense of humor and an appreciation for the theatrical side of performing. 

 ``Lester Bowie was a great trumpeter who kind of pushed the boundaries,'' said Walter Wade, an on-air personality at WBGO-FM, a jazz station in Newark, N.J. 

 '' His approach to playing, it was very visceral,'' Wade said. 

 That style was matched by the musicians he played with in the ensemble. 

 ``They were pioneers who took music seriously but didn't leave the theater out,'' Wade said. 

 Bowie was known for using all kinds of music in his performances, including the works of Michael Jackson and James Brown. 

 Born in Maryland, Bowie was brought up in Arkansas and Missouri. He started playing the trumpet at age five and by 16, he was leading his own group. 

 As a teenager in St. Louis, he practiced his trumpet by an open window, hoping that Louis Armstrong would hear him and discover him. 

 Bowie helped form Black Artist Group, and the Great Black Orchestra in St. Louis. Later in Chicago, he and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell formed the Art Ensemble of Chicago. 

 He recorded with Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, Jimmy Lyons, and Cecil Taylor. 

 He had been on tour with the group Brass Fantasy in London and went to hospital there when he felt ill, Beauchamp said. He came off the tour and headed back to New York. He went back into the hospital in New York and was sent home, where he died. 

 Bowie is survived by his wife Deborah Bowie; six children, and two grandchildren. 

    
Veteran Jazz Iconoclast Lester Bowie Dead 
     
              Spin.com has learned that avant garde trumpet player Lester Bowie, who has worked for nearly four decades on expanding the jazz genre (and pioneering the free jazz movement in the process with his Art Ensemble of Chicago) died last night due to complications from liver cancer. Bowie's last release, with his Brass Fantasy combo, The Odyssey of Funk and Popular Music Volume 1, featured takes on contemporary hits like the Spice Girls's "2 Become 1," the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Notorious Thugs," and Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People," as well as standards by Cole Porter and opera by Puccini.   

   "Jazz is neither specific repertoire nor academic exercise...but a way of life," 
    declares trumpet legend Lester Bowie. In yet another remarkable step in his 
    remarkable life's journey through music, the outspoken and often 
    controversial Bowie upends all laws of genre, targeted audience, and 
    pop/art postulation. The epic trip continues with "THE ODYSSEY OF FUNK & 
    POPULAR MUSIC VOLUME 1," the Birdology/Atlantic debut from Bowie's 
    renowned Brass Fantasy ensemble. "We're trying to reach people," declares 
    Bowie of the new album. "Y'know, an artist has an obligation not only to 
    create the art, but to at least attempt to reach people...because the art is 
    about people. It's not something you can seperate from life."  

    Brass Fantasy offers what might be regarded as the polar opposite of the 
    incomparable Art Ensemble of Chicago, the avant garde free jazz group 
    Bowie founded some 33 years ago. It is a divergence of method that Bowie 
    celebrates, in turn raising the ire of purists and technicians. "Purity, to me, 
    means creativity, innovation, extension of the tradition," states Bowie. "Y'see 
    freedom, from my point of view, has always meant freedom to express 
    myself any way I choose." Challenging, acrobatic, and utterly unexpected, 
    this 1999 Brass Fantasy release finds the group tackling songs by such 
    disparate artists as The Spice Girls, Cole Porter, Marilyn Manson, Notorious 
    B.I.G., and Puccini. ~Atlantc Records

 
Lester Bowie, an avant-garde jazz trumpeter who 
grew up in St. Louis, dies of cancer in New York
 
                   From News Services  

                     NEW YORK - Lester Bowie, a former St. 
                   Louisan who was one of the most versatile 
                   trumpeters in avant-garde jazz and a catalyst 
                   for new ideas in music for nearly 35 years, died 
                   Monday (Nov. 8, 1999) in his home in Brooklyn, 
                   at age 58. 

                   Mr. Bowie, who emerged as a focal point for 
                   radical music in Chicago in the mid-1960s, had 
                   been receiving treatment for liver cancer but 
                   never stopped performing. He was in the midst 
                   of a European tour with his Brass Fantasy band 
                   when he became ill in London. 

                   "Lester knew this would be his last tour. He 
                   knew there was a chance he might not 
                   complete it, but he had the spirit to try," said 
                   his wife, Deborah. 

                   That same ferocity of spirit defined Mr. Bowie's 
                   music, which typically was tonally brilliant, 
                   rhythmically aggressive and stylistically brash. 

                   Although he was born in Frederick, Md., on 
                   Oct. 11, 1941, Mr. Bowie grew up in the St. 
                   Louis area, a region famous for producing such 
                   noted jazz trumpeters as Miles Davis, Clark 
                   Terry, Elwood Buchanan, Joe Thomas, Shorty 
                   Baker and Levi Maddison. 

                   He started playing the trumpet at age 5 and by 
                   16, he was leading his own group. 

                   As a teen-ager in St. Louis, he would practice 
                   his trumpet by an open window, hoping that 
                   Louis Armstrong would hear him and discover 
                   him. 

                   Mr. Bowie helped form Black Artist Group, and 
                   the Great Black Orchestra in St. Louis. Later in 
                   Chicago, he and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell 
                   formed the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He 
                   recorded with Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, 
                   Jimmy Lyons and Cecil Taylor. 

                   By the late '50s, Mr. Bowie was backing 
                   doo-wop groups in Texas, traveling with 
                   rhythm-and-blues bands led by Little Milton 
                   and Albert King in the early '60s and 
                   occasionally touring with circus bands. 

                   In 1965, he headed north "because, as he used 
                   to say, 'All the musicians from St. Louis wanted 
                   to go to Chicago,'" recalled his wife. "That's 
                   where new music was happening," she said, 
                   with Muhal Richard Abrams having established 
                   his Experimental Band on the South Side as 
                   early as 1962. 

                   Mr. Bowie was pivotal to the creation and 
                   ascent of the Association for the Advancement 
                   of Creative Musicians an influential collective of 
                   black Chicago jazz bands that played a music 
                   more dissonant, extroverted and stylistically 
                   free-ranging than anything yet heard in jazz. 
                   None of the group's ensembles, however, 
                   brought the new sound of the South Side 
                   avant-garde to the rest of the world more 
                   vividly than the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which 
                   Bowie formed with multi-instrumentalist 
                   Mitchell, saxophonist Joseph Jarman and 
                   bassist Malachi Favors (percussionist Don Moye 
                   joined later, in 1970). The exotic 
                   instrumentation, African-tribal garb and mixture 
                   of ancient and futuristic musical forms made 
                   the Art Ensemble of Chicago internationally 
                   famous and helped rejuvenate an art form that 
                   seemed to be floundering in the early '60s. 

                   Although Mr. Bowie moved to New York in the 
                   late '70s, he performed so frequently in 
                   Chicago as to remain vital to the city's 
                   avant-garde scene. 

                   "He never really lost that connection to 
                   Chicago," said Deborah Bowie. "It was really 
                   part of who he was."

 
NY TIMES
        
 Lester Bowie Is Dead at 58; Innovative Jazz Trumpeter

          By BEN RATLIFF 

               The trumpeter, band leader and composer Lester Bowie, an icon of 
               the experimental movement in jazz from the mid-1960's on who 
          was also known for his comic shows and jazz-based treatments of pop 
          music, died on Monday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 58.  

          The cause was liver cancer, said his brother Byron.  

          Best known as a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bowie 
          performed and recorded for more than 30 years. In that group he 
          developed the two things that would brand him: his knowing, Groucho 
          Marx-like sense of humor, expressed musically and otherwise, and his 
          appearance. In most performances he wore a long white lab coat and his 
          narrow face was bracketed by a flat-top haircut and a sharp goatee. In 
          publicity photos he was rarely seen without a cigar.  

          His early working experiences were in rhythm-and-blues bands, and a 
          slow, expressive blues was his specialty.  

          But the most famous part of Bowie's trumpet language was timbral 
          effects -- glissandos, smears, growls, flutters, half-valved winces and 
          other vocalizations that worked their way into the style of almost every 
          self-consciously experimental jazz trumpeter who came after him, 
          including Butch Morris, Dave Douglas, Herb Robertson and Roy 
          Campbell.  

          His recordings often seemed like prankish arguments that the only way to 
          understand jazz is to see it both in carnivalesque and intellectual contexts, 
          to play circus music and modernist post-bop, pure hit-parade pop and 
          nearly academic composition.  

          Bowie was born in Frederick, Md. His father was a trumpeter who 
          turned to high-school teaching after striving for a performance career in 
          classical music.  

          At age 5 Bowie was playing trumpet in daily practice with his father, and 
          he played in dance bands as a teenager.  

          He joined the Army at the age of 17 and was stationed in Texas, where 
          he served as a military policeman.  

          Bowie credited his career longevity to the four years he spent in the 
          service. After his discharge he played in bands led by blues and 
          rhythm-and-blues performers including Albert King, Jackie Wilson, 
          Rufus Thomas and Joe Tex, and was privately rehearsing more 
          experimental music with St. Louis musicians like Julius Hemphill and 
          Oliver Lake.  

          He married a rhythm-and-blues singer, Fontella Bass, and moved to 
          Chicago in 1965 to become her musical director; during that period Ms. 
          Bass recorded "Rescue Me," which became a major hit on radio. The 
          marriage ended in divorce.  

          In Chicago Bowie worked with a big band led by George Hunter and 
          played in rhythm-and-blues studio sessions, including many for Chess 
          Records.  

          Tiring of the grind, he followed the advice of a saxophonist colleague 
          named Delbert Hill and attended a composers' workshop led by the 
          pianist Muhal Richard Abrams.  

          Many of those in the workshop, including Roscoe Mitchell, Henry 
          Threadgill, Joseph Jarman, Anthony Braxton and Jack DeJohnette, 
          would in the next decade become major figures in the new jazz.  

          Abrams's workshop bands formed the nucleus of the Association for the 
          Advancement of Creative Musicians, the nonprofit cooperative first 
          organized in 1965.  

          Mitchell created a band with three other A.A.C.M. members: Bowie, the 
          bassist Malachi Favors and the drummer Phillip Wilson. When Wilson 
          left, the band had trouble finding a replacement. Out of desperation its 
          members incorporated small percussion instruments -- gongs, bells, 
          shakers -- into their group improvisations. This sound would be one of 
          the staple gestures of the music played by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, 
          which the Mitchell group became in 1969.  

          By Bowie's reckoning, the Art Ensemble of Chicago rehearsed about 
          300 times a year in Chicago and gave only a handful of performances 
          because there was almost nowhere to present their music.  

          So they traveled to France, where there was curiosity about American 
          experimental jazz. They made six albums in two months and performed 
          hundreds of times in their two years there. The band played blues and 
          Bach fugues and percussion interludes and hooting free-improvisation 
          pieces and wore tribalist face-paint.  

          The Art Ensemble's notoriety followed it back to the United States, and 
          the group was soon recording for Atlantic Records.  

          By the mid-70's the Art Ensemble had an easier time reaching large 
          audiences. The band soon came to define an esthetic involving ethnic 
          music, humor, eclecticism and physical intensity that had a considerable 
          impact.  

          In addition to his brother Byron, of Frederick, Bowie is survived by his 
          current wife, Deborah; his father, W. Lester Bowie Sr., and another 
          brother, Joseph, both of Frederick; six children, Larry Stevenson of 
          Sardinia, Italy; Ju'lene Coney and Nueka Mitchell of St. Louis; Sukari 
          Ivester of Chicago; Bahnamous Bowie of Queens, and Zola Bowie of 
          Brooklyn, and 10 grandchildren.  

          During the 1970's Bowie spent two years in Jamaica playing and teaching 
          trumpet and took a brief trip to Nigeria, where he became a sideman on 
          three records with the popular bandleader Fela Anikulapo Kuti 

          Bowie started one new band after another, always surrounding himself 
          with work and often undertaking his own business affairs without a 
          manager. He led a quintet and a gospel group, From the Root to the 
          Source. In the early 80's, he formed the New York Hot Trumpet 
          Quintet, which briefly included Wynton Marsalis. Later Bowie and 
          Marsalis would often be cited in contrast in debates on the issue of 
          futurism versus traditionalism in jazz.  

          He assembled a 59-piece band called the Sho Nuff Orchestra for a 
          concert at Symphony Space in Manhattan. His octet Brass Fantasy, 
          formed in the mid-80's, performed versions of pop and funk tunes by 
          artists like the Platters, Michael Jackson and James Brown, and 
          recorded for the ECM, DIW and Atlantic record labels. The group's last 
          album was the 1998 "Odyssey of Funk and Popular Music, Vol. 1."  

          In recent years Bowie set up the Hip-Hop Feel-Harmonic, an 
          unrecorded project with rappers and musicians in his Brooklyn 
          neighborhood of Fort Greene.  

          His sly sensibility won an appreciative following. An enduring example 
          was his track "Jazz Death?" from a 1968 album by Roscoe Mitchell's 
          band, "Congliptious." It begins with Bowie's dramatically clearing his 
          throat and asking, "Is jazz, as we know it, dead yet?"  

          The reply is a long trumpet solo punctuated with silences, muted 
          wah-wah passages, Bowie's own off-horn shrieks and murmured 
          comments, and finally, six minutes later, a sentence: "Well, I guess that all 
          depends on, ah, what you know." 

 
 
 
       
 

OBITUARY
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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
All-Music Guide
 
     From the 1970s on, Lester Bowie has been the preeminent trumpeter  
    of the jazz avant-garde -- one of the few trumpet players of his generation to 
    successfully and completely adopt the techniques of free jazz. Indeed, Bowie 
    has been the most successful in translating the expressive demands of the 
    music -- so well-suited to the tonally pliant saxophone -- to the more  
    difficult-to-manipulate brass instrument. Like a saxophonist such as  
    David Murray or Eric Dolphy, Bowie invests his sound with a variety  
    of timbral effects; his work has a more vocal quality, compared with  
    that of most contemporary trumpeters. In a sense, he's a throwback to 
    the pre-modern jazz of Cootie Williams or Bubber Miley, though Bowie 
    is by no means a revivalist. Though he's certainly not afraid to  
    appropriate the growls, whinnies, slurs, and slides of the early jazzers, 
    it's always in the service of a thoroughly modern sensibility. And 
    Bowie has chops; his style is quirky, to be sure, but grounded in 
    fundamental jazz concepts ofmelody, harmony, and rhythm. Bowie 
    grew up in St. Louis, playing in local jazz and rhythm & blues bands, 
    including those led by Little Milton and Albert King. Bowie moved to  
    Chicago in 1965, where he became musical director for singer  
    Fontella Bass. There Bowie met most of the musicians with whom  
    he would go on to make his name -- saxophonists Joseph Jarman  
    and Roscoe Mitchell and drummer Jack DeJohnette among them.  
    He was a founding member of the Association for the Advancement 
    of Creative Musicians and (in 1969) the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  
    Bowie's various bands have included From the Root to the Source -- 
    a sort of gospel/jazz/rock fusion group -- and Brass Fantasy, an  
    all-brass, post-modern big band that's become his most popular 
    vehicle. Bowie's catholic tastes are evidenced by the band's repertoire; 
    on albums, they have covered a nutty assortment of tunes, ranging from 
    Jimmy Lunceford's "Siesta for the Fiesta" to Michael Jackson's 
    "Black and White." Besides his work as a leader and with the Art 
    Ensemble, Bowie has recorded as a sideman with DeJohnette, 
    percussionist Kahil El'zabar, composer Kip Hanrahan, and saxophonist 
    David Murray. He was also a member of the mid-'80s all-star  
    cooperative the Leaders. Bowie's music occasionally leans too  
    heavily on parody and aural slapstick to be truly affecting, but at its  
    best, a Bowie-led ensemble can open the mind and move the feet  
    in equal measure. -- Chris Kelsey, All-Music Guide
Lester Bowie

                Distinctive St. Louis trumpeter (born in Frederick, Maryland on October 11, 
                1941) and leader of the Brass Fantasy was an early AACM member, 
                cofounder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago during the late '60s, and was the 
                original lead voice of the Ritual Trio (1985). By many accounts the most 
                important trumpeter in the last 30 years, Bowie combines style, studding speed, 
                and expressive technique in both the classic jazz (1920-1940) and the 
                avant-garde. He performs only _very_ infrequently in Chicago, so catch him if 
                you have a chance. 

                As a youth he practiced his trumpet by an open window, hoping that Louis 
                Armstrong might pass and discover him. After military service he worked R&B 
                sessions (including with his wife, singer Fontella Bass). After forming BAG 
                (Black Artists Group) and the Great Black Music Orchestra in St. Louis, Bowie 
                moved in Chicago to join the AACM. Along with Roscoe Mitchell, he was a 
                founder member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. 

                A flamboyant and funny player, Bowie also has incredible technique, tone, and 
                musical sensibility. 

                Among his notable recordings are The Fifth Power (1978; Black Saint), 
                Works (1981-6, ECM), My Way (1990; DIW), The Fire This Time (1992, 
                In+Out), and on Jack DeJohnette's New Directions) and David Murray's 
                Live at The Lower Manhattan Ocean Club.~Center Stage

 
 
  
 
 

OBITUARY
BIOGRAPHY
LINKS TOP
 
 
 
 

 LINKS
  
 
 
 
 Discography
 

OBITUARY
BIOGRAPHY
LINKS TOP
 
 
Lester Bowie Discography (ECM) 

Avant Pop Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy  
I Only Have Eyes For You Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy  
The Third Decade Art Ensemble of Chicago  
All The Magic! Lester Bowie  
Urban Bushmen Art Ensemble of Chicago  
The Great Pretender Lester Bowie  
Full Force Art Ensemble of Chicago  
In Europe Jack DeJohnette New Directions  
New Directions Jack DeJohnette  
Nice Guys Art Ensemble of Chicago  
Works Lester Bowie 

Selected Discography: 

The Fifth Power - Black Saint BSR-0020 - 1978 
The Fire This Time - In + Out IOR 7019-2 - 1992  
The Art Ensemble of Chicago - Live - Delmark DE-432 - 1972  
The Art Ensemble of Chicago - Dreaming of the Masters - DIW 846 - 1990 
The Leaders - Out Here Like This - Black Saint BSR 0119 - 1987 

 
 
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