The pianist and film composer Kris Bowers is one of the few true musicians who brings impactful sounds to projects such as documentaries, films, and our everyday ears. With a background in jazz and classical music, Bowers has been able to keep traditional sound alive and open many doors to opportunity for his career. One of those great opportunities came when Showtime produced Kobe Bryant’s Muse documentary.
Because we have been Binging on his music lately, we decided to take some time and get to know a little more about Kris and his recent success.
Your latest work was heard on Showtime’s Kobe Bryant’s Muse and it was phenomenal. Describe this experience and the amount of work it took for you to create the right sound and music for this powerful documentary?
Thank you! This film was an amazing, and pretty involved process. I joined the team around the end of the summer last year, and we worked just about up until the air date. When I came on board, they had just finished a rough cut of the documentary, but would (unknowingly at the time) have to start everything again from scratch. It just wasn’t right. And so Kobe and the director (Gotham Chopra) decided to begin again from a different approach. So, my role at that time was to begin building a sonic palette, and write ideas for themes based on some of the emotional and thematic elements in the film. From there, we worked in tandem. As they worked out a scene, I worked out the cue. As they tightened things up and got closer to finishing, so did I. That’s how we worked for the entire process. An entire wall in my home studio was covered with sheets of paper, each describing a theme, the instruments/sounds, the emotional elements, etc. Also, I’m a very visual person, so everything was color-coded so that I could instantly see the themes that had similar elements.
As for the sound of the score, Kobe, Gotham, Jake [the producer] and the rest of the team were very open to whatever I wanted to do creatively. When I first met Kobe, he said to me, “This film is about me looking back at my journey as a man. We’ve all been through something. We’ve all made good and bad choices. Think about your own journey, and write music about that. Then it will be great.” Those are probably some of the most freeing and inspiring words of direction I’ve ever received as a film composer.
How much time goes into writing musical notes and then eventually producing it for one track?
I’ll spend a bit of time out front just exploring sounds and coming up with a palette to work with. That can take days, and continues throughout the writing process. Also, the whole thing is very much a collaborative effort. So, I may spend an hour to three hours creating the demo for a cue, then I’ll send it to the director/producer/editors for feedback. From there it depends. I may need to re-write the entire piece, or just make a few minor changes. Once everyone is satisfied with the direction, there’s the final recording and mixing.
I’d say on average, with every stage taken into consideration (composing, demoing, recording, mixing, etc), for every minute of music in a film, there’s an average of 5-10 hours spent on it.
At what age did you discover your love and passion for music?
My parents decided they wanted me to play piano before I was born. They’re not musicians, but that’s just something they felt was important for me to do. However, my love for it took a while to develop. When I was in elementary and middle school, I had fun playing piano, and knew that I had a talent for it. But, it wasn’t until High School (at around 13-years-old) that I actually developed a true love for it. That’s when no one had to remind me to practice, and I spent hours at the piano a day. That’s when I fell in love with the craft and the developmental side of playing and creating music.
Are there any memorable stories about growing up and playing music as a child, you could share with us?
There are a ton. But one thing I look back fondly on was my time in middle school. I went to a normal middle school, and being a “jazz” musician at that age, I couldn’t relate to people on a lot of levels. But, being able to learn songs from the radio and play them at talent shows, or when we were just hanging out near a piano, made me feel like I fit in a bit more. Being able to play “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” or some Boys II Men or ’N Sync song for a girl I had a crush. It made me feel kind of cool.
Who are some of your all time favorite pianists?
In no particular order: Herbie Hancock, Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson, Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonious Monk, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, Kenny Kirkland, Mulgrew Miller, Lennie Tristano, Glenn Gould, and Hank Jones. There are plenty more, but these are a handful where I remember spending (and still spend) a significant amount of time studying each one pretty intensely.