Kris Bowers Leads a Jazz Festival for the Heroes Generation. The annual Czech Festival Teens Tunes Jazz, (Mladi Ladi Jazz) exists to promote the youngest generation of jazz groups mainly from Europe, and including the crème of the crop on the local scene. The festival also has international headliners, including Jacob Collier, while another highlight, Kris Bowers, is the most appropriate, for our times.
The title of Bower’s new album “Heroes + Misfits” reflects a generational shift in the making. Bowers says that according to generational theorists, he is part of the “Heroes” generation, and this explains the rise of Arab Springs, Occupy Wall Street, and the Black Lives Matter protests led by people his age.
Bowers, born 1989, in Los Angeles, also fits the Czech festival’s concept to a “T” since he was born in the year of the Czech’s Velvet Revolution, and the Teens Tunes Jazz Festival is mostly interested in attracting and nourishing a younger audience to its concerts, as it is to supporting the musicians born post 1989.
Bowers, as a jazz pianist and keyboardist, is more open-minded than the previous generation of jazz leaders, particularly the Young Lions led by Wynton Marsalis, from the early 1980s. Bowers has played with hip-hop artists including Jay Z and Kanye West, recording on their tracks, and moving in the other direction, for instance his new album; “Heroes + Misfits” includes a cover of LA rapper Kenrick Lamar’s “Rigamortis.” This track alone is a perfect example though, of transforming a street-wise roar into an exquisite jazz song, that sounds contemporary, and it transcends generations in terms of appeal.
Bowers gets an altered sound from his piano by placing household objects (like house or car keys, nails, cups or coins) into the piano itself, to block the natural path of the piano’s strings. A few avant-garde pianists altered their piano strings similarly, beginning in the 1960s, but Bowers is doing this not to deconstruct the song itself, but to create an enlightening reinterpretation, instead.
“The inspiration for this technique came more from composer John Cage and modern pianists like Hauschka,” says Bowers.
“I’m also not concerned with genre when I do this, whether it is jazz, avant-garde, or anything. I just like the sound and like to make light of the percussive nature of the piano,” he says.
“I first started performing with prepared piano about two years ago, after seeing some of my classmates at Juilliard perform using the technique,” he says. “I also try to keep the songs with prepared piano in one section of the performance.”
Bowers’ album “Heroes + Misfits” could thus be, at its best, a modern-day jazz soundtrack for this (his) generation.
“There are plenty of heroes everywhere in the world, both every day and substantial,” says Bowers, and his album is a reflection on all of this.
“But ultimately,” he adds, “’hero’ and ’misfit’ are interchangeable. The heroes in history were always misfits.”
For his concert in Prague on April 15th at the arts and cultural center Meet Factory, Bowers will be joined by European players Nick Croes (guitar), Alex Bonfanti (bass) and Jamie Peet (drums).
The Teens Tunes Jazz Festival began March 30th, with the nouvelle chanson-folk French band Carrousel at Jazz Dock, and it wraps up at Jazz Dock, April 28th, with the progressive Viennese group, Schmieds Puls. A dozen other concerts between these dates can be found on their website.
Tickets prices for the Mladi Ladi Festival are also significantly cheaper for younger ticket buyers.
More information at the festival website
Article by: Tony Ozuna | Photo by: Lauren Desberg