Celebrated pianist-educator Ellis Marsalis was joined by newcomer Kris Bowers, the 22-year-old winner of the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, in a series of music education programs across New Orleans, presented by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz with lead funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Marsalis and Bowers performed together for the first time on duo grand pianos for hundreds of public school students at an assembly program at Warren Easton Charter High School and a masterclass at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, before presenting a free concert at the Old U.S. Mint in collaboration with New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Bowers also participated in a Black History program at McDonogh 35 College Preparatory High School and “Roots of Jazz” informance at the Old U.S. Mint.
Highlighting the importance of jazz – America’s greatest musical contribution to the world – each program combined performance with educational information, and showcased works by jazz icons such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. The musical conversation explored what jazz is, why it’s important to America, and how a jazz ensemble represents a perfect democracy, and included a question-and-answer session.
“It was such an honor to share the stage with Mr. Marsalis. He is not only a jazz legend, but also a personal hero of mine,” said Bowers. “Great educational outreach programs like these are what made me the musician I am today. I’ve been so fortunate to attend schools and various arts programs that focused on bringing in some of the jazz giants, as well as various amazing up-and-coming artists, not too much older than us. That’s why it’s so important that I carry on the tradition in order to inspire the next wave of artists not too far behind me.” Bowers was the first recipient of the Luther Henderson Scholarship at Juilliard where he recently completed his Masters degree in Jazz Performance with a focus on film composition.
Marsalis served on the judging panel at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition last September, which awarded Bowers a first place prize including a $25,000 scholarship and Concord Records contract. Marsalis invited Bowers to join him in the duo piano programs to help serve as a role model. This is the first time Marsalis has performed duo piano with a young protégée since touring extensively with Marcus Roberts in the early ’90s.
“My father believed the best way to learn jazz was from a master of the music,” said jazz drummer Thelonious Monk Jr., chairman of the Institute’s Board of Trustees and son of the legendary jazz pianist and composer. “The Institute follows that same philosophy, and for the past 25 years has brought students together with renowned jazz artists and educators to offer musical mentorship.” The Institute is an essential forum for identifying music’s new voices, honoring its present and past masters, and making the jazz aesthetic available and comprehensible in concert halls and classrooms around the world.