Kris Bowers

Kris Bowers

For Kris Bowers, the winner of the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition Award, musical training started in the womb. His parents, non-musicians (dad is a film and TV writer, mom is a human resources executive), made the decision that their forthcoming child was going to play the piano. "They put headphones on my mom's belly and would play soft jazz and the classics," Kris recounts. "And when I was four, my grandmother bought me a little keyboard to play with." He was enrolled in Yamaha classes immediately thereafter.

Following his pre-natal and toddlerhood training, Kris -- the first recipient of the Luther Henderson Scholarship at Juilliard where he received his Masters degree in Jazz Performance with a focus on film composition -- began studying piano privately at the age of nine. By the time he reached middle school, Kris was able to figure out how to play popular songs he had heard on the radio and, thus, contemporary catalogs entered his repertoire.

At the start of his formal training in classical music, he found it difficult to concentrate on just one genre as he was surrounded by the sounds of old school R&B and funk that his parents favored and the hip-hop and pop reflective of the tastes of his own generation. Immersed in this musical melting pot, Kris soon found himself attracted to the rhythmic and soulful feeling of jazz. "I felt that I could improvise and express myself a lot better through jazz," he notes.

He then enrolled in both classical and jazz classes at the Colburn School for Performing Arts where the older students told him what artists to check out, resulting in his being smitten by Oscar Peterson's solo recordings. "Those blew me away," he recalls. He continued at Colburn until the end of his high school years that had been spent at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA). While still in LACHSA, he performed at multiple jazz festivals; the die had been cast in no uncertain terms.

After receiving numerous awards, accreditations and scholarships, he graduated in 2006 and moved to New York to pursue his studies at Juilliard. Once he arrived in the city, he also realized he could earn a living as a jazz musician. He's studied privately with Eric Reed, Fred Hersch, Frank Kimbrough and Kenny Barron and has immersed himself in the New York jazz scene where he has shared the stage and/or recorded with such artists as Marcus Miller, Terell Stafford, Vincent Herring, Louis Hayes, Casey Benjamin, and Kenneth Whalum III. Kris was hand-selected to perform at last year's prestigious NEA Jazz Masters Award Ceremony where he guested on Frank Wess's "Magic" with Jazz Masters Frank Wess, Benny Golson, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Kris recounts, "Being a part of the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Ceremony was an incredible opportunity that I'll never forget. The NEA awards ceremony is a much needed recognition of some of the greatest and legendary figures in the jazz community, and it was an honor to play for and with them. During the song I played on, it was hard at times not to simply sit in awe of these two tenor giants [Benny Golson and Frank Wess] and the amazing Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra."

Kris has continued to be active in other genres, working with his cousin Murs, Q-Tip, José James, Jay-Z and Kanye West -- he can be heard on West and Jay-Z's latest album, Watch the Throne. He has also had the good fortune to perform for notable individuals like Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and President Barack Obama.

On a balmy night in Washington, DC this past September, Kris won the coveted Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition Award at the Kennedy Center. The program, co-chaired by Madeleine Albright, Quincy Jones, Debra Lee and Colin Powell and was judged by Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Moran, Danilo Perez and Renee Rosnes with Monk Institute Lifetime Achievement honoree Aretha Franklin cheering Kris on. On reflection of his triumph, the still incredulous Kris says, "I'm still trying to convince myself that it happened. And, yes, it's pretty amazing."

Aside from playing, Bowers has been composing various styles of music including -- but not limited to -- jazz, classical, film music, rock and electronic. "There are far too many brilliant composers and musicians in all genres to remain closed-minded," he says, "I refuse to filter the artists that inspire me whether they be jazz, classical, rap, hip-hop, rock, electronic, film composers, or whatever else I find myself listening to these days." Speaking of film, he greatly admires contemporary giants in the film composition/scoring field including Howard Shore, Michael Giacchino, John Williams, Danny Elfman and John Powell. It's a virtual certainly that in the decades ahead, the name Kris Bowers will be added to that list.

Covering a Kris Bowers performance for the New York Times, Ben Ratliff wrote, "His set had range and ambition and said something strong, sweet and normative about phrasing and rhythm in jazz right now. (It didn't argue against tradition, and his tradition connects jazz with R&B and gospel on the deeper levels.)"

Kris's philosophy of open-mindedness and artistic eclecticism is based on Duke Ellington's theory of "good music and 'the other kind.'" Says Kris, "Genre designations are really not that relevant. It's all music." In his case it's certainly good music and definitely not "the other kind."

Julia Easterlin

Julia Easterlin (a.k.a. Julia Hite), is one part Regina Spektor, one part loop scientist, and a sophisticated musical mind that can wield composition, production, and performance in one fell swoop. With a full ride at Berklee, runner-up in the illustrious New York Songwriter's Circle, which awarded her $5000, studio time, and many opportunities on TV and Radio, this talented songstress is bound for big things.

Ian Isiah (Live)

Pitchfork- Le1f's Best of 2013 "This homey is bringing a gospel training out of the choir and into a room that smells of weed and sex"

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