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Bowie performing in the mid-1990s
October 11, 1941|
Frederick, Maryland, U.S.
November 8, 1999 (aged 58)|
Brooklyn, New York
Lester Bowie (October 11, 1941 – November 8, 1999) was an American jazz trumpet player and composer. He was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and co-founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Born in the historic village of Bartonsville in Frederick County, Maryland, Bowie grew up in St Louis, Missouri. At the age of five he started studying the trumpet with his father, a professional musician. He played with blues musicians such as Little Milton and Albert King, and rhythm and blues stars such as Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, and Rufus Thomas. In 1965, he became Fontella Bass's musical director and husband. He was a co-founder of Black Artists Group (BAG) in St Louis.
In 1966, he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a studio musician, and met Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell and became a member of the AACM. In 1968, he founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago with Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, and Malachi Favors. He remained a member of this group for the rest of his life, and was also a member of Jack DeJohnette's New Directions quartet. He lived and worked in Jamaica and Africa, and played and recorded with Fela Kuti. Bowie's onstage appearance, in a white lab coat, with his goatee waxed into two points, was an important part of the Art Ensemble's stage show.
In 1984, he formed Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, a brass nonet in which Bowie demonstrated jazz's links to other forms of popular music, a decidedly more populist approach than that of the Art Ensemble. With this group he recorded songs previously associated with Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Marilyn Manson, along with other material. His New York Organ Ensemble featured James Carter and Amina Claudine Myers. In the mid 1980s he was also part of the jazz supergroup The Leaders. Featuring tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, drummer Famoudou Don Moye, pianist Kirk Lightsey, and bassist Cecil McBee. At this time, he was also playing the opening theme music for The Cosby Show.
Although seen as part of the avant-garde, Bowie embraced techniques from the whole history of jazz trumpet, filling his music with humorous smears, blats, growls, half-valve effects, and so on. His affinity for reggae and ska is exemplified by his composition "Ska Reggae Hi-Bop", which he performed with the Skatalites on their 1994 Hi-Bop Ska, and also with James Carter on Conversin' with the Elders. He also appeared on the 1994 Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African-American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by Time.
In 1993, he played on the David Bowie album Black Tie White Noise, including the song "Looking for Lester", which was named after him. (Lester and David Bowie were not related - David Bowie's birth name was David Jones.)
Bowie took an adventurous and humorous approach to music and criticized Wynton Marsalis for his conservative approach to jazz tradition.
Lester Bowie died of liver cancer in 1999 at his Brooklyn, New York house he shared with second wife Deborah for 20 years. The following year he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2001, the Art Ensemble of Chicago recorded Tribute to Lester.
|Numbers 1 & 2||1967||Nessa|
|Gittin' to Know Y'All (features Bowie conducting the Baden-Baden Free Jazz Orchestra)||1970||MPS|
|Duet (with Phillip Wilson)||1978||Improvising Artists|
|The 5th Power||1978||Black Saint|
|The Great Pretender||1981||ECM|
|All the Magic||1983||ECM|
|Bugle Boy Bop (with Charles "Bobo" Shaw)||1983||Muse|
|Duet (with Nobuyoshi Ino)||1985||Paddle Wheel|
|I Only Have Eyes for You||1985||ECM|
|Live at the 6th Tokyo Music Joy (with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago)||1990||DIW|
|The Fire This Time||1992||In & Out|
|The Odyssey Of Funk & Popular Music||1999||Atlantic|
|When the Spirit Returns||2003 (recorded Oct. 1997)||Dreyfus Jazz|
|Funky T. Cool T.||1992||DIW|
|Old/Quartet - Roscoe Mitchell||1967||Nessa|
|Numbers 1 & 2 - Lester Bowie||1967||Nessa|
|Early Combinations - Art Ensemble||1967||Nessa|
|Congliptious - Roscoe Mitchell||1967||Nessa|
|A Jackson in Your House||1969||Actuel|
|People in Sorrow||1969||Pathe Marconi|
|Message to Our Folks||1969||Actuel|
|Reese and the Smooth Ones||1969||Actuel|
|Les Stances a Sophie||1970||America|
|Live in Paris||1970||Freedom|
|Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass||1970||America|
|Live at Mandell Hall||1972||Delmark|
|Fanfare for the Warriors||1973||Atlantic|
|Live in Berlin||1979||West Wind|
|Among the People||1980||Praxis|
|The Complete Live in Japan||1984||DIW|
|The Third Decade||1984||ECM|
|Ancient to the Future||1987||DIW|
|The Alternate Express||1989||DIW|
|Art Ensemble of Soweto||1990||DIW|
|America - South Africa||1990||DIW|
|Thelonious Sphere Monk with Cecil Taylor||1990||DIW|
|Dreaming of the Masters Suite||1990||DIW|
|Live at the 6th Tokyo Music Joy with Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy||1991||DIW|
|Fundamental Destiny with Don Pullen||1991||AECO|
|Salutes the Chicago Blues Tradition||1993||AECO|
|Coming Home Jamaica||1996||Atlantic|
|Urban Magic||1997||Musica Jazz|
With David Bowie
With James Carter
With Jack DeJohnette
With Brigitte Fontaine
With Melvin Jackson
With Fela Kuti
With Frank Lowe
With Jimmy Lyons
With Roscoe Mitchell
With David Murray
With Sunny Murray
With Charles Bobo Shaw
With Archie Shepp
With Alan Silva
With Wadada Leo Smith