Kris Bowers, Winner, 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition
Pianist Kris Bowers is one of the freshest voices on the jazz landscape. Born in 1989 in Los Angeles, Bowers was learning piano via the Suzuki method by the time he was 4, and taking private lessons by age 9. In middle school, he started reproducing pop songs on the piano by just listening to the radio. With his preference for contemporary music over the classical music of his training, Bowers threatened to give up the piano until his parents enrolled him in jazz lessons. “When I started taking the jazz lessons, I felt like I was doing something different enough that I was appeased for a while,” says Bowers. “I liked the freedom of jazz.”
Bowers attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts while also taking classical and jazz classes at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. Determined to become a professional musician, he began his undergraduate studies at Juilliard in 2006, studying privately with Kenny Barron, Fred Hersch, Frank Kimbrough and Eric Reed. In 2011, while earning his master’s degree in jazz performance with a concentration in film composition, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, performing for a judging panel that included Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Moran, Danilo Pérez and Renee Rosnes. That same year, he showed his commitment to blurring genres by performing on Watch the Throne, the collaborative album by hip-hop artists Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Bowers was selected to perform at the 2012 and 2014 NEA Jazz Masters awards ceremonies at Jazz at Lincoln Center, playing with an array of the assembled jazz masters including Benny Golson, Dave Liebman, Wynton Marsalis and Frank Wess. His 2014 release for Concord Music Group, Heroes + Misfits, netted him recognition by iTunes as one of 12 “Artists to Watch” in 2014. Bowers was the only jazz musician to make the list.