Oct 11, 2011
Had he not died at the too-young age of 58 from liver cancer, Lester Bowie, the highly influential trumpet player would have been 70 years old today. In some ways, Bowie's career spanned the history of modern African-American music, from Blues and R&B to avant-garde jazz.
Bowie played with blues musicians such as Little Milton and Albert King, and soul starsstars like Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, and Rufus Thomas. In 1965, at the age of 25, he became Fontella Bass's ("Rescue Me") musical director and husband. A year later, they moved to Chicago, where Bowie worked as a successful studio musician. There he met Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell, two musicians with whom he co-founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He played with them for the rest of his life. Their contribution to the avant-garde cannot be underestimated, With equal parts reverence and humor, they touched on all their favorite tunes in jazz history, playing their instruments onstage along with found objects, noisemakers and bicycle horns. On stage, the group would often appear in face paint and unusual costumes, blurring the line between theatre and jazz.
As fine a player as Bowie was, he mayhave been even a greater organizer. He co-founded the Black Artists Group, a multidisciplinary arts collective in St.Louis in 1968. Among the jazz talent that emerged from BAG were saxophonists Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake, trumpeters Baikida Carroll; and trombonist Joseph Bowie. Stage directors, poets, painters and dancers also were trained during its four year run. Bowie also helped create the AACM, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a non-profit organization devoted "to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music."
Bowie would lead his own bands, like the nonet Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and his New York Organ Ensemble (which featured James Carter on sax). Carter would pay his debt to Bowie by recording his mentor's compostiion ""FreeReggaeHiBop" on his Conversin' With the Elders CD in 1994.