This week, let's get acquainted with Chicago multi-instrumentalist Mwata Bowden, who's coming to St. Louis to perform with the trio Low End Theory for Washington University's Jazz at Holmes series on Thursday, March 27. Bowden plays a variety of saxophones and clarinets, flute and didgeridoo, and he'll be joined for the performance by bassist and Wash U faculty member Paul Steinbeck and drummer Gary Sykes.
Bowden is associated closely with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, having been a member for nearly 40 years and serving for a time as the organization's chairman, and also teaches jazz and improvisation at the University of Chicago. That's where he connected with Steinbeck, who earned his bachelor's degree at UC.
While he's in St. Louis, Bowden also will present a lecture on Creating Culture" at 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, March 26 at the Music Classroom Building 102, which is located at 6500 Forsyth Blvd. (at Wallace Dr.) on the Wash U campus. Both the concert and lecture are free and open to the public.
Born in Memphis, the 66-year-old Bowden moved with his family to Chicago when he was ten, and attended DuSable High School, where he studied under the renowned band director Captain Walter Dyett. He earned a degree in music education at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, and after graduating, started gigging as a baritone saxophonist with big bands and R&B groups. After touring with soul vocal group the Chi-Lites in the early 1970s, Bowden wanted to get off the road, so he began teaching and in 1974, got involved with the AACM.
As a bandleader, Bowden has led the jazz groups Sound Spectrum and Tri-tone, as well as the Black Classical Music Ensemble. He also directs a student ensemble, the Chicago Jazz X-Tet, as part of his work at the university. Bowden is a longtime collaborator with saxophonist Ed Wilkerson, playing in Wilkerson's groups 8 Bold Souls and Shadow Vignettes. He also works frequently with bassist Tatsu Aoki in various ensembles, including the Miyumi Project, which blends jazz with Japanese taiko drumming and folk music styles.
Though Bowden may be less well known outside Chicago that some of his fellow AACM members, he's an important part of the organization and the city's music scene, so much so that in 2013 he was recognized by the Jazz Journalists Association as one of 25 Jazz Heroes" in various cities across the US. And so it was on the night that award was presented that our first video clip, which features Bowden as part of an ensemble jam, was recorded at a venue called Elastic.
Down below, you can see him conducting and playing didgeridoo with the University of Chicago Jazz X-Tet Reunion Band, leading them through his composition Maze Factor Suite, Two Front Doors" in October 2012 concert at the Logan Arts Center on the UC campus.
Below, Bowden can be seen conducting another of his large ensemble works, A Well Woven Web," which was commissioned for and recorded at the 2013 Made In Chicago Festival in Poznan, Poland.
The fourth and fifth videos are excerpts from an 8 Bold Souls performance, coincidentally also in Poznan, but recorded in 2009. In the first, you can hear how saxophonist, bandleader and composer Ed Wilkinson uses Bowden's baritone sax to buttress the ensemble, while in the second, Bowden gets a tasty clarinet solo starting at about the 4:40 mark.
In the final clip, you can see Bowden sitting in with the punk-jazz group Slammin' Blue Watusis, adding an extra measure of skronk to Mchaka Uba."