At 22-years-old, jazz pianist Kris Bowers hangs Julliard diplomas on his walls, names bright young music stars among his circle of friends, and is as much a fan of underground rock and rap as he is of the music that has shaped his career.
At nine-years-old, Bowers began taking piano lessons, and as an early teen, his romance with jazz sparked when taking lessons in the genre. An L.A resident, he attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and since his graduation, has been further perfecting his craft at the Julliard School in New York, receiving an undergraduate degree and now pursuing his Masters in Jazz Performance. He has performed with jazz greats including Benny Golson and Frank Wess, and for audiences, which have included Colin Powell, Aretha Franklin, and President Barack Obama. He is also using his skill and unique music perspective to places beyond jazz, including modern genres of pop music. He has had opportunities to perform with hip-hop moguls including QTip, The Roots' rapper Black Thought, Ludacris, Mos Def, and Kanye West, whom he met while doing a show with QTip at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival this past July. His music was recently featured on the Billboard-topping collaboration album between West and Jay Z, called Watch the Throne.
Bowers is now preparing for his first studio album with Concord Records, after winning the prestigious 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and an award of $25,000. He jokes when I ask him how his progress is coming: "Well, I can't even pretend I don't have money anymore. But it's more kind of a mental thing. I won't go into the studio until May. Right now I'm just trying to figure out what direction I want the sound to go." Standing on the threshold of his upcoming album, Bowers says he wants to incorporate his eclectic personal music taste into his unique sound. "I want my fan base, or future fan base, to be comprised of people my age, so I feel it's important to give them stuff [they can relate to]." His broad interests include film composition, an industry he plans on working in one day. He names some of his favorite composers as "Lord of the Rings" writer Howard Shore; John Williams ("any melody that's really, really famous, he probably wrote it"), of Jaws, E.T, Harry Potter theme, and Star Wars fame; and Ratatouille composer Michael Giacchino.
Bowers takes a moment to consider when I ask him what advice he would give to other aspiring musicians, then answers unexpectedly. "It's funny you ask that. I haven't even figured that out." He laughs. "Always stay hungry. Do as much as you can. More importantly, just [be] a good person. The reason why I got a lot of these gigs, more than [just] being good, is that it was some of my friends that recommended me." He does, however, have a fast response when I say that it seems like he's having fun. "The main thing is about how good it feels and trying to connect to people."
It's a statement as simple and genuine as he himself seems to be, and a sentiment sure to continue opening many more doors in his future.