Years ago, I interviewed trombonist Joseph Bowie at his family's homestead in Frederick, Maryland. Joseph and his brother Lester stretched the boundaries of jazz with their sonically adventurous bands (Defunkt and Art Ensemble of Chicago, respectively), and they were the epitome of hip jazz players, so it blew my mind to learn their family had deep roots in Frederick. In fact, Lester, who passed away in 1999, was born in Frederick and planned on retiring to that area.
Joseph moved to Holland, and he's been wowing mostly European audiences for the past decade, but he's currently in the U.S. for a rare tour with drummer Adam Rudolph. They'll perform at the Windup Space Sunday night.
Wanting to catch up a bit, I emailed Joseph a few questions about living in Holland, what Frederick means to him, and his upcoming show with Rudolph.
Why did you move to Holland, and how's it been for you?
I decided to move in 2003 when I was on a Defunkt Tour in Europe—my then girlfriend (future wife) was living there and things were changing culturally for the worst in the US. I was 50 yrs old and felt it was now or never to make a drastic change.....also, George Bush was President and the cultural decline in America was reaching insulting levels. I happily married in 2004.
Holland is a small country with huge ramifications worldwide after emerging as a shipping power in the 17th century and transporting goods of all kinds throughout the world for the benefit of Western European countries. The Dutch were also instrumental in the slave trade. As a result, The Netherlands is a mixing pot that includes cultures from Suriname, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, North/Central and South Africa etc. Most importantly, for me as a musician, is the geographical location. Within the comparative land area of the United States, there are 28 countries (and counting) that are members of the European Union—28 economic markets, diverse cultures, and languages without borders. You may travel freely between those countries. For work, I can travel to any country withing the EU within 2 hrs by plane or train. The general atmosphere, politically, is still radically social compared to the US. For example, everyone has health coverage!
What have you been focused on for the past few years?
Beyond my collaborations with various bands and musicians, I have developed an EU version of my legendary band Defunkt. I have created "Defunkt nEU Soul" featuring world class musicians from around the globe. The musicians are all based in Paris. (see YouTube, search Defunkt Soul) My foremost focus has been developing humanitarian workshops for musicians and non-musicians. "FunkShop" is my workshop for musicians to develop human contact skills and communication development as well as emphasizing ear training and memorization of music...skills almost lost in the basic curriculum in the music schools. For the community, I have created "The Kosen-Rufu Foundation" which is the parent of my non-musician, community based workshop, "Rhythm, Sound and Motion Experience," a worshop for all ages to develop self-confidence and group working skills. I am also involved in the creatin of the Opera "SWEAT" with classical composer David Dramm and artist and visionary Hilarius Hofstede.
How did your collaboration with Adam Rudulph come about?
Adam invited me to join a musical project celebrating the 85th birthday of Musical legend Yusef Lateef, culminating in a concdert at Lincoln Center in NYC, a CD release, and tours in California and throughout Europe. Later, Adam invited me to Morrocco to perform with Hamid Drake and Gnawan musicians at the Gnawa festival in Essoeira, Morroco. We later performed as a duo in NY and in a trio on tour throught Europe with Omar Sosa. We always envisioned developing our duet concept because of our innate understanding of organic improvisation. He is one of the few musicians whom I share a rare improvisational language spanning the entire diaspora of sound. His musical and philosophical talent is wide, encompassing a universe of knowledge. I joined Adam most recently with his flagship band, "Moving Pictures," featuring Ralph Jones on saxophone and an assortment of incredible musicians from around the globe.
What can folks expect or not expect at Sunday night's show?
The audience can expect the "Un-expected," original concepts and interpretations of musical genres, new and old, spanning the imagination and depth of the universe.
What's it like visiting Frederick these days?
It is always a return to forever... Home. I still own a house together with my brother, Byron Bowie. Frederick holds a special place in my heart as a starting point for my evolution to today. I feel humble and happy to return and merge energy with family members and friends.
What deep is your family's connection to that area?
The Bowies have lived in the Frederick area since the emancipation of the slaves in the mid-1800s. "Robert Bowie" my great, great, great, great Grandfather, was a freedman and it is rumored of owning slaves himself. Our home is built on the original land where my father and siblings grew up. Our current home stands on the land of the original log cabin that housed my Grandparents and 9 siblings. Several relatives still live in the area on Bartonsville Road. As a child, we spent most summers there. As my mother and father aged, they decided to purchase the sacred family land there and move from St. Louis. My mother died (1982) before she was able to live there, but my father spent the rest of his life (died in 2000) there with myself and brothers.
I'd heard that Lester wanted to retire to Frederick and just fish. Is that true?
Yes, He had a beautiful log house built on the property. It was a dream of his to return to his Frederick roots. He is the only sibling of my parents born in Frederick. Unfortunately, he also died (1999) before being able to live in his dream house. His spirit is always alive there... the family has a small grave yard and I visit monuments to Lester, my parents, and all family members when I am there.