Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Belated Tribute to Bowie

Lester Bowie was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a cofounder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  During the post-Miles era of the late 1970s until his death in 1999, Lester was the preeminent trumpeter of the jazz avant-garde. Between his twin-forked goatee and the trademark white lab coat he wore on stage, he looked - and sounded - like a mad scientist in search of new forms of self expression.

His playing embraced techniques from the whole history of jazz trumpet. He invested his sound with a variety of timbral effects as he filled his music with humorous smears, blats, growls, half-valve effects, and so on. His playing had a more vocal quality than most other contemporary trumpeters but although he was not afraid to appropriate the whinnies, slurs, and slides of earlier jazz musicians, it was always in the service of a thoroughly modern sensibility and he displayed a fondness for contemporary music, including pop, New Orleans funk, reggae and ska. 

Lester successfully translated the expressive demands of jazz, so well suited to the tonally pliant saxophone, to the more difficult-to-manipulate trumpet. His style may have been quirky, but it was grounded in fundamental jazz concepts of melody, harmony, and rhythm, and most importantly, it was fun.

Yes, it was fun to listen to Lester Bowie.  Still is.  He even put out an LP titled Serious Fun, and listen to how much fun you can have when you stop taking things so seriously.

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