An interview with Joseph Bowie: Still funking after Defunkt

Article Index

bowie
Joseph Bowie comes from a St. Louis family that can be described as jazz and R&B royalty. His brother Lester Bowie founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago, his other brother Byron Bowie was an important R&B arranger and Joseph himself founded the legendary free funk group Defunkt. Interview and photos: Saskia Rietmeijer & Bart Drolenga

Joseph Bowie feels that he has come full circle. Defunkt is famous for its mixture of experimental lyrics and free funk music. Now the trombone player is recording an album that combines the anarchistic texts of writer Hilarius Hofstede and crazy jazzy funky music played by the best Dutch jazz musicians and some of the finest American funkateers. The working title: Sax Pistols Allergy for the US.

Who inspired you to pick up the trombone?

“My oldest brother Lester Bowie played the trumpet and my next older brother Byron played the saxophone, so when the music teacher in the fifth grade offered me a music instrument I picked the trombone, just to play something different. My father William was a music teacher and he played the cornet.”

How was it to be raised in such a musical family?

“Oh, it was great. Lester and Byron were a lot older so I was introduced to music at a very young age. At seven years old I started playing the piano and I started playing horn when I was long enough to stretch my arms, about 10, 11 years old. There was always music in the house. I would listen to Lester's group the Art Ensemble rehearsing in the house. I can remember as a kid that Roscoe Mitchell’s Art Quartet, this was before the Art Ensemble, rehearsed in the living room and I was just listening.”

Lester rehearsed in your house?

“Yeah, back in those days you rehearsed in your house. I can't remember rehearsal studios in the sixties. My first pop band, when I was 15, we always rehearsed at my parents house and later we got a manager and we practiced at some office space but I never played in a rehearsal studio till I got to New York.”

Did your brothers influence you?

“Of course, my brothers were the biggest influence musically because they taught me the first songs and through them I started to like avant-garde. I got involved in the Black Artist Group in St. Louis, with Oliver Lake and Bobo Shaw, at a very early age. I was fifteen. I was also doing pop music on my own because I had this Rhythm and Blues influence. Byron arranged R&B and Lester was a great R&B player too. He was married to Fontella Bass and led her band in the sixties and that was also a great influence. They would let me play a gig when I could play a few notes. So it was a cross between this R&B and the great history of jazz. St. Louis is the birth home of Miles Davis and Clark Terry so there was a great jazz energy in St. Louis.”

What inspired you to start Defunkt?

“I loved R&B and rock. I grew up in the sixties, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown all that was in my blood. I became Tyrone Davis band director in the mid seventies and I toured around the country with him in a bus for about a year and a half and that probably taught me the greatest R&B lessons of my life and how to run a band. After that I went to New York. It was the late seventies and the new wave period was going on, Blondie, The Ramones, James Chance. I got a job playing with James Chance, playing a mixture of punk and funk. After a while I said I might as well form my own band. So I formed Defunkt and we were opening shows for James and that is how Defunkt began. The Hungarian exile poet Janos Gat wrote a lot of the lyrics in the early Defunkt period. We blended the funk and the free jazz. That was the whole idea with Defunkt. We had a pop feel and it was danceable. Every time you played it was different and that was the jazz influence. A blend that was danceable, even for a pop audience but still creative, open, open-ended.”

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Taborn's Finessed Tapestry Of Textures F…

  The large number of musicians at this sold-out show says...

Read More.....

Abdullah Ibrahim, Gregory Porter, Yazz A…

The full line-up has been announced for Cheltenham Jazz Festival...

Read More.....

Irreversible Entanglements + Matana Robe…

  Matana Roberts (above) is so relaxed tonight her short opening set...

Read More.....

Jazz FM Awards nominations celebrate gia…

The names for the 2019 Jazz FM Awards were revealed...

Read More.....

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra premiere ‘Badge…

The London-based 17-piece Patchwork Jazz Orchestra are set to release...

Read More.....

NJYO, JCM, friends and family pay tribut…

As Jon Hiseman would say: “If you are going to...

Read More.....

Sons of Kemet, Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia …

The programme has been announced the inaugural We Out Here...

Read More.....

NCO hit bullseye with CTI at Ronnie Scot…

Tomorrow’s Warriors’ role as a springboard for emerging talent in...

Read More.....

Countdown To Ecstasy: Royal Academy Big …

  There are some people, who I've never understood, who smirk...

Read More.....

Melt Yourself Down, Laura Mvula and Kama…

The second edition of Love Supreme at the Roundhouse takes...

Read More.....

Michel Legrand 24/02/1932 – 26/01/2019

The prolific French film composer and pianist Michel Legrand was...

Read More.....

Hamasyan In Inspired Orchestral Manoeuvr…

The Brussels Jazz Festival is a relative newcomer, but this...

Read More.....

Zara McFarlane and Soweto Kinch turn up …

The night goes on and they keep on coming, a...

Read More.....

Jazz meets theatrical protest with The A…

Few styles of music can claim to have come as...

Read More.....

Snarky Puppy return with new album Immig…

Grammy-winning groove crew Snarky Puppy return with a new studio...

Read More.....

Blue Note spearheads 80th Anniversary Ye…

The iconic Blue Note label will celebrate its milestone 80th...

Read More.....

John Turville dives in Head First – new …

Pianist and composer John Turville returns with a new album...

Read More.....

Uri Caine and Henri Texier dazzle while …

Jazzfestival Münster is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but has only...

Read More.....

Ezra Collective bring the Brit-Jazz Nois…

Much like in other recent editions of New York's Winter...

Read More.....

Yazz Ahmed and Jasper Høiby line-up for …

For some there is a Holy Grail in jazz: to...

Read More.....

Matthew Herbert marks Brexit with Big Ba…

Composer, conductor and sampling-supremo Matthew Herbert is set to release...

Read More.....

Joseph Jarman 14/09/37 – 9/01/19

  The recitation of 'Non-Cognitive Aspects Of The City' by Dante...

Read More.....

Wandering Monster step up with 'Samsara…

Bass-led progressive jazz group Wandering Monster are set to release...

Read More.....

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Oded Tzur Quarte…

  The unfeasibly warm November weather was matched by the heat...

Read More.....

Edinburgh embraces the Thrill of Belgian…

Belgium may be better known for its beer than its...

Read More.....

Mitchener And Yarde Break Blues Boundari…

The blues is a lived and living truth, as much...

Read More.....

Ra's Arkestra Announces Annual Lewes Aff…

The Sun Ra Arkestra – led by that indomitable intergalactic...

Read More.....

Steve Williamson, Silje Nergaard and Tin…

Southampton’s Turner Sims music venue has announced an impressive line-up...

Read More.....

19-year-old vibraphonist Sasha Berliner …

19-year-old vibraphonist Sasha Berliner wins LetterOne Rising Stars Award California-based...

Read More.....

Nordic Wonders: Rune Grammofon Bring The…

Determined individuals who ignore categories define the Norwegian scene, in...

Read More.....

Mehldau Marvels At Jazztopad

  The entire spectrum can dazzle at Jazztopad, a Polish festival in...

Read More.....

Jazz FM Awards return for 2019

The Jazz FM Awards return for a sixth time next...

Read More.....

Chick Corea, Madeleine Peyroux and Kamaa…

The organisers of the Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs...

Read More.....

Peter Boizot 1929 – 2018

The press obituaries for Peter Boizot, who has died aged...

Read More.....

David Mossman – 17 July 1942 - 8 Decembe…

Ahead of starting the Vortex in 1988, there is nothing...

Read More.....

Greg Fox and Pulverize The Sound punish …

  The second phase of Poland’s Jazz Jantar festival involved five nights...

Read More.....

Making The Cut Mpu 300x500px

Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Office vibes: Bill Thompson's realigned improvised bliss drones, Mouthful of Air, ft Ian Stonehouse adorned bonus t… https://t.co/VSgNHLl5OB
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
Taborn's Finessed Tapestry Of Textures Finds Glorious Voice At London's Vortex https://t.co/Fs7KQdjlVP @vortexjazz… https://t.co/edRbsSiYMc
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA