The Monterey Jazz Festival has announced that pianist and composer Kris Bowers has been commissioned to write and present a piece at the event in September, in celebration of the festival’s 65th anniversary. The California-born and -bred Bowers decided to highlight the role of ocean sanctuaries in a piece called “ASYLO” (“sanctuary” in Greek), timed to coincide with another anniversary—the 30th anniversary of the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary—and drawing on the Greek myth of Persephone. Bowers’ piece portrays the separation of a mother and daughter whale after leaving their sanctuary and their eventual reunion.
The festival first started commissioning pieces by jazz artists in 1959, when founder Jimmy Lyons was the artistic director. Among those early commissioned composers were jazz greats such as Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and Gerald Wilson. The commissions faded away until 1994 when Tim Jackson, who had succeeded Lyons as the festival’s artistic director, reinstituted the program with contemporary artists such as Wayne Shorter, Maria Schneider, Billy Childs, Miho Hazama, Carla Bley, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Christian McBride. “We reinstated our commissioning program with the goal of focusing on new young composers as well as jazz legends,” Jackson explained in a press release received at JazzTimes. “Kris, as an alumnus of our Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, is a perfect example of the type of artist we like to work with: young, exciting, innovative and with a unique viewpoint.”
Bowers competed at Monterey’s 2004, 2005 and 2006 Next Generation Jazz Festival with the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and was selected as the pianist to the 2006 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. With the NGJO, Bowers performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, at the Umbria Jazz Festival, and at Monterey Jazz Festival 49 with jazz singer Kurt Elling. “I’m so incredibly honored to have been commissioned for this piece by the Monterey Jazz Festival,” Bowers said in the same press release. “Having started going to the festival as a kid and participating in the High School Jazz Competition, I established a relationship with the Monterey Bay pretty early on. Now as an adult, my wife and I have developed a deep love and relationship with that area, visiting at least once or twice a year to immerse ourselves in nature and be near that part of the Pacific Ocean. It has become a second home for us and I’m excited to pay homage to that area with this piece.”
Bowers is not your typical jazz pianist and composer. In addition to his work as a jazz artist, Bowers has become one of the film and TV industry’s most in-demand composers, writing for television shows like Bridgerton, Dear White People, and When They See Us, and movies like King Richard and Green Book. He also wrote the music for We Own This City, the upcoming series from David Simon and George Pelecanos of The Wire fame.
The Monterey Jazz Festival celebrates its 65th anniversary September 23-25, 2022, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Headliners include Gregory Porter, the Cookers, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Chucho Valdés, Artemis, and many more. Learn more at the festival’s website.