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Sometimes there's just no substitute for experience in the music industry, as Smooth Jazz guitarist, Tim Bowman has demonstrated over the years. The warmth of his soulful melodic appeal and honey-buttered tone is both infectious and consoling. His ability to continuously peak the charts and produce inspired music that has generated a league of loyal fans and followers is by no accident. But Tim doesn't owe his success completely to his authentic Jazz style enveloped in pumping R&B grooves and dazzling musical arrangements. Nor can Bowman credit his connection with audiences exclusively to his popular sound that meets listeners wherever their moods seem to take them.
Rather, Tim Bowman's journey to success started at the same fork in the road where so many others began. From humble beginnings he came, rich in family tradition, diverse musical influences and approachable role models. His perseverance was grounded in strong spiritual truth, foundational wisdom, and the enclave encouragement of the Christian church. Tim was born on April 22, 1959 in the musically affluent town of Detroit, Michigan. Placing ninth in a family of twelve children, he was born to the late Aaron (a brick mason) and Mattie Bowman (a housewife). Their lives revolved around the International Gospel Center Church in Ecorse, MI.
Bowman commenced his professional career when he began working with the legendary Gospel group, The Winans. However, after experiencing an extensive period of tours and traveling, Tim regrouped and became content with normal domestic life, and only played guitar as a hobby. But Bowman's wife, Wanda, saw something more for his future and in 1996 encouraged Tim to record and release his first album, Love, Joy and Peace. Bowman pressed 2,000 copies, and began promoting the album around Detroit himself. Jazz radio station, WJZZ started pushing four tracks concurrently in heavy rotation ("Give Me You", title cut, "Love, Joy, Peace," "I'll Be There," and "Speak To Me"), which yielded impressive local store record sales.
Eventually, Insync Records picked up the CD and released it nationally. The album peaked at #19 on the Gavin Smooth Jazz Charts and #20 on the Radio & Record Magazine's album chart in the spring of 1997. The single "I'll Be There" soared to #18 on the Gavin's Top Twenty singles chart. Bowman continued his exponential success among his fans, as well as widespread industry and media attention with each new project release, including Paradise in 1998, Smile in 2000, and This is What I Hear in 2004 (which featured his chart shattering #1 single, Summer Groove).
Tim released his fifth (self-titled) album in 2008, a powerful performance which re-established his Smooth Jazz musical center and star appeal, and featured some of the best known and most phenomenal musical talents in the world including, Najee, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Lorber, Randy Scott, Darren Rahn and Bowman's own son, Tim Bowman Jr.
There's no doubt that Tim Bowman and his music steadily flow in a heartfelt spiritual assurance that transcends and transforms his performance environment into his own sanctuary. He is then persuaded to "wow" audiences with his smooth, skillful delivery clothed in the truth of his convictions. Fortunately, JGC was able to catch up with "Mr. Smooth" Bowman himself for an in-depth interview backstage just prior to a show--an amazing show, I might add. Let's see what wisdom and experience he had to share:---------------------------
TDR/JGC: Well, it's a pleasure to meet you. I have had a chance to listen to your music and you have a wonderful sound. I can tell that there's some George Benson in there....
TB: My favorite guitarist.
JGC: Yeah, he's one of my favorites, too. That actually leads me to my first question. What was the most important influence on you musically, especially as it relates to your Smooth Jazz style?
TB: My family was always musical and I played at church. I would become mesmerized playing as a kid. There was a guy who would visit my church from Toledo, Ohio, named Michael Peaches; he used to play with Rance Allen. I have 8 sisters and Michael was trying to talk to them so he would come around the house and I would always hang around. He was trying to get me to leave, but I was trying to learn how to play. I said to him, "You teach me how to play and I will leave you alone." So he started showing me things and that's how I got started. The first guitar player I saw who was a professional on television was Roy Clark from "Hee Haw." At the time, I thought he was amazing and come to find out, he was. Any string instrument, he could play. I would just sit there and watch "Hee Haw." I was too young to understand the jokes. But I knew this guy could play. I would watch his techniques and be in front of the TV every Saturday. That was the first influence. At this point, I was studying and reading to try to hone my ear. And then one day, I was at the mall at the age of 16 or 17 and heard this guy playing. I was like, "Who is that?" It was George Benson. That's when I became a George Benson fan. At 18, I won a scholarship at a Conservatory where I studied Jazz and Blues.
JGC: Who have you enjoyed working with in the business?
TB: I have enjoyed working with everyone, but I loved working with Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, Jeff Golub, Ricky Lawson (on drums), Najee, Wayman Tisdale and I love working with my own band. You know what it's like; you're a musician. Musicians can be some of the coolest people to work with.
JGC: In playing with the Winans, how was that experience for you and how did it impact your career?
TB: Marvin and I hit it off from day one. He's talking about me and I am talking about him. He's talking about painting walls and I am talking about fixing the broken step. So we hit it off as buddies. They [The Winans] asked me to play guitar on their first record on Light Records called "Testimony." I will never forget my first trip with them. It was on a Greyhound from Detroit to L.A., a three-and-a-half day trip. I am still mad at them about that. [Laughs] I was playing guitar for them initially and then became the Music Director for them the year after and was with them for the next 8 years. I learned so much about production, songwriting and the music business. And to this day, we are the best of buddies. You have to develop friendships when you're that close. We were traveling all around the world. In the beginning before we were flying everywhere, we were in a 15-passenger van. With 9 guys, you either kill each other or you become friends. Fred Hammond was also in the group at the time.
JGC: What would you say was the most defining moment of your career?
TB: The most important thing for me is just to be able to do it for the Lord. I take credit for nothing. There are so many good guitar players out here. As far as the music business, it's being able to surround myself with good people like my manager who I trust like a brother and I've got the best musicians that play with me. As far as accomplishments - and I take no credit for any of this - but He's blessed me with some number ones that have crossed over from gospel to secular. I am still a gospel musician. It's just that God saw fit to bless me. The thing that defines me is just being thankful for the opportunity.
JGC: How did you come to know Jesus as your Savior and what has that meant to you as far as your career is concerned?
TB: I was raised in a family of 12. In my family, it wasn't "Are you going to church?" It was like, "We're leaving in 10 minutes." I am still in the same church that I was born and raised in - 50 years later. It means everything to me. As you get older, you can look at the path that God led you down. Even with the tests and trials, you have to say, "Thank you, Jesus." I am so glad to be able to look at my children and they're doing well. I am so thankful. Even when times were tough, it was still "Thank You Jesus" because I have my mind. You learn to not worry and stress over things. If you believe what you say you believe, you can't stress. I have lived my life performing and I am thankful for everyday.
JGC: What is Gospel Jazz to you and how do you feel about it as a genre?
TB: To me, it's the motive of the heart. Every time I strap up, I am playing for the Lord - whether I am playing at the Catalina Jazz Festival or New Ebenezer First Baptist Church. To me, it's who you're playing for. I know what my motives are. Even in Jazz festivals, I have no trouble saying what I'm doing and that I am out of the church. I hope that something I'm playing or saying will have an effect on someone's life. Maybe I can witness to them or they can witness to me. You want them to take something away that enhances their life. I think it all comes down to the motive of the heart. You can say Jazz, Gospel Jazz or Gospel, but what are you up there for? What if you're singing Gospel, but you're up there for yourself? Whether you're saying baby or Jesus, what are you singing for? It's all about the motive of the heart.
JGC: There have been some disturbing trends with radio format support in terms of Smooth Jazz. As a Smooth Jazz artist, what do you believe is happening in the industry and what should happen to keep the genre thriving?
TB: That's a much talked about subject. There are probably 25 other Smooth Jazz artists in dressing rooms that are having the same conversations right now. I have a long answer that I will cut down. When you get corporations involved...there used to be so many mom and pop radio stations, you would have one and I would have one. But when the laws began to change to allow corporations to own all of them, forget the genre, it's about the bottom line. That's what corporations deal with, the bottom line. If you have a classic rock station that's getting a rating of 5, they'll ask why the Smooth Jazz station only got 3. Those numbers determine what they can charge for air time. It becomes the bottom line. But with mom and pop stations, they bought a Jazz station because they love Jazz. It's a business, but they are looking to make $75,000 a year and that's fine. But a corporation wants to squeeze $1 million out of that. People are supporting the music. At these Jazz festivals, there are 6 - 7,000 people at the shows. And there are so many talented musicians putting out great projects and people love it. But corporations look at one thing.
JGC: With five albums under your belt, what is on the horizon for you?
TB: I am working on number six, but I am co-producing my son's new record. We're almost done with that record. Outside of an excellent singer, he's an excellent kid. He's a pharmacy student. That was the agreement; I promised him that I would help him, but he had to get an education first. Because you don't know how this business can be. You can be a one-hit wonder. You can have some longevity in this field, but you don't want to put that pressure on yourself where you have to sing for a living. You don't want to put yourself in a position where you are tempted to compromise. I told him that we want to keep it holy and above board. My daughter, Candace, is producing and writing songs for him. She's the one responsible for my last record. She got everybody together, got the artwork and the photo shoot together. She just graduated from Michigan State.
JGC: Are there any collaborations would you consider doing in the future?
TB: We did quite a few on the last record - Kirk Whalum, Jeff Golub, Najee, those guys were fun. Also, Darren Rahn, Randy Scott...
JGC: Would you love to do something with George Benson?
TB: I would be scared to do something with Benson. I met him when we were doing a show in New York. Gerald Albright and I were there and he introduced me to George. Benson said, "Man, I love your music!" Right then, I was ready to retire [laughs]. I was through! He was the nicest guy. The greatest thing is to meet a person you really look up to and they are a nice person. He was so gracious.
JGC: What is your performance schedule like and where in your travels have you gone where the experience changed your life?
TB: I went on a mission trip to Haiti with my church. What you see on television isn't the half of it. It's worse than that. After that trip, if I can't have something that I want, that's alright. I am content after seeing that. People living in cardboard boxes and when it rains, you have to get a new house--Unbelievable. At the hotel, you couldn't take showers or drink water because you don't want to get sick. There was a man at the entrance of the hotel with a shot gun. Start something if you want to... I don't think they had a smooth road in the whole country. That experience shook me to the core. I don't complain. That changed my life. I am thankful. If I don't play another note, I am thankful.
JGC: What would you like to say to young aspiring guitarists coming up now who may want to follow in your footsteps?
TB: Always be a person of intent. If you say what you're going to do, do what you say you're going to do. It takes a lot of hard work to be a good musician. The Bible says "play skillfully"; you should study. Also, be honest with yourself. If you are at the point when you're getting ready to record, don't do half of something. If the quality of the recording isn't good and it's going out to the people or there are only songs that you like (and no one else does), be honest with yourself. If you don't do that and the project doesn't do well, don't blame everyone else. Listen to what's on the radio and ask, "Is what I am doing sounding like this?" "Is my playing up to par?" Surround yourself with people you trust. It's important to be a person of integrity. If someone hires you to do a job and you're supposed to be there at 8:30, be there at 8:20. If you're supposed to pay a musician $300, pay them $300 - on that night. Do the right thing and be honest with yourself. If you are songwriter, write, but if you can't, get someone that can write songs for you. If you have the whole package, that's great! But if you don't, be honest with yourself. And most of all, give everything to the Lord.