Bassist Bob Bowman had a rough period in his life recently.
He weathered challenges to his own health for a lot of 2012, and then on Nov. 20 last year came the death of his wife, Sandra Paige Bowman.
He did not crumble. He has come through it all by rededicating himself to music. And you can really hear it in the way he plays now — all the chops and all the imagination seem to be in sharper focus than ever before. From some personal low points, he has scaled an artistic peak.
That’s very much in evidence on his new CD, “Songs for Sandra,” featuring some of her favorite songs and new compositions dedicated to her. Bowman made the disc with the help of some formidable friends: guitar companions Danny Embrey and Rod Fleeman from Bowman’s Interstring band, pianist friends Roger Wilder and Laura Caviani, drum soulmate Todd Strait, guest drummer Eliot Zigmund and even singer Karrin Allyson.
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He’ll celebrate the disc’s release with some of those friends at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd. There’s also a gig with Caviani at the Take Five Coffee + Bar, 6601 W. 135th St., Suite A-21, in Overland Park at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Bowman, a native Kansan, explored the jazz scenes on both coasts and toured the world with heavy hitters — the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band, singer Carmen McRae — before deciding to settle down in Kansas City in the late ’80s.
A few years later, Allyson came along and took him out on the road again for at least a decade. But he never left for too long, and the last few years, Bowman has devoted himself to being closer to home — family, friends and his horse.
Since the ’80s, he has made himself one of the central figures of the Kansas City jazz scene. He has helped many younger players get it together, and by his own playing he has raised the bar for what’s expected of bassists and rhythm sections in this town.
Now, emerging from this difficult period, he has raised the bar for himself. And we all get to enjoy the results.
▪ The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, directed by Clint Ashlock, plays a free concert at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Performing Arts Center at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Seating is first come, first served.
▪ Trombonist, composer and arranger Marcus Lewis leads a group at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave.
▪ The Broadway Jazz Club, 3601 Broadway, is launching a “signature series” with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s quartet, in shows at 6 and 9 p.m. Friday. Singer Angela Hagenbach appears at 7 p.m. Saturday.
▪ Other highlights at the Green Lady Lounge include the return of pianist Paul Shinn’s trio at 8:30 p.m. Friday, 10 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
▪ Philadelphia flute and sax man and performance poet Elliott Levin, who has worked with Cecil Taylor and members of the Sun Ra circle, is bassist Jeff Harshbarger’s guest on a couple of gigs this weekend. They’ll work with improvising pianist Thollem McDonas and reed man Mark Southerland at 8 p.m. Saturday at Take Five Coffee + Bar, and Levin and Harshbarger will also play the next show on the alternative jazz series at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road, at 8 p.m. Sunday.
▪ Take Five Coffee + Bar also has tenor saxophonist James Isaac’s group at 8 p.m. Friday. Pianist and singer Alyssa Murray and her trio play the Sunday brunch at 10 a.m.