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Lester Bowie

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(1941-1999) Trumpeter Brother of Joseph Bowie

NPR Audio Feature NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Lester Bowie
Terry interviews the iconoclastic Art Ensemble of Chicago founder, who talks about his life and career, revealing that he unsuccessfully auditioned for James Brown's traveling band three times.

Lester Bowie grew up in St. Louis and gained early musical experience in blues and rhythm-and-blues bands including those of Albert King and Little Milton Campbell. In 1965, he moved to Chicago to become the music director for the rhythm-and-blues singer Fontella Bass, to whom he was married. He was a founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a musicians' cooperative of which he became the second president, and in 1969 he was a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with which he has performed and recorded into the 1980s. In addition to his work with the Art Ensemble, he led the groups From the Root to the Source, which developed an unusual fusion of jazz, rock and gospel, and Brass Fantasy; he also played in the Leaders (from 1986) and recorded as a sideman with Amina Claudine Myers, Archie Shepp, Jack DeJohnette, and David Murray.

Bowie was among the most original trumpeters in jazz. He commanded an exceptionally large stock of effects, including half-valving, growls, bent notes and a wide vibrato. His witty, irreverent style is well represented by the track Jazz Death? (from Roscoe Mitchell's album Congliptious, 1968) and by his playfully distorted version of the rock-and-roll song The Great Pretender (from his own album of the same name, 1981).

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