Trumpeter Lester Bowie, a leading contributor to the jazz avant-garde and a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, died Nov. 8 at his Brooklyn home of complications from liver cancer. He was 58.
Bowie, who also played the fluegelhorn, was known as a flamboyant performer with a sense of humor and an appreciation for the theatrical side of performing, often wearing a baker’s hat during performances.
“Lester Bowie was a great trumpeter who kind of pushed the boundaries,” said Walter Wade, an on-air personality at WBGO-FM, a jazz station in Newark, N.J.
The Art Ensemble — Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors and Don Moye — was founded in 1969 as an outgrowth of the Assn. for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a collective of improvisers in Chicago. Bowie toured with the unit as well as his own Brass Fantasy band.
Bowie was known for using all kinds of music in his performances, including the works of Michael Jackson, James Brown and Whitney Houston as well as frantically squawking original works.
Born in Frederick, Md., Bowie was reared in Arkansas and St. Louis. He started playing the trumpet at age 5, and by 16, he was leading his own group. As a teenager, he practiced his trumpet near an open window, hoping Louis Armstrong would hear and discover him.
Bowie helped form Black Artist Group and the Great Black Orchestra in St. Louis before moving to Chicago. Besides the Art Ensemble and Brass Fantasy, he recorded with saxophonist Archie Shepp, drummer Sunny Murray and pianist Cecil Taylor.
He had been on tour with Brass Fantasy in London and went to the hospital there when he felt ill. He returned to New York and, after a short hospital stay, was sent home, where he died.
Bowie is survived by his wife, Deborah Bowie; six children; and two grandchildren.