Leah Bowden is a percussionist and music scholar from the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of California, San Diego (2018), and is the Archivist for the influential percussionist Warren Smith. Leah is a member of The Forest, a dynamic percussion quintet featuring composer/ improvisors Andrew Drury, Michael Wimberly, Gustavo Aguilar and Lesley Mok. She is a board member of Continuum Arts & Culture, “a Brooklyn-based non-profit that promotes the creation of innovative, world class music while supporting the people who create it and the culture that surrounds it.”
Dr. Bowden is the author of “Max Roach and M’Boom: Diasporic Soundings in American Percussion Music,” which explores the musical and political efforts of percussionists working at the intersection of jazz, chamber music and world music in the 1970s and 80s. Dr. Bowden frames M’Boom as an embodiment of Max Roach’s visionary music career, and explores how collectivist ideals of the New York loft scene informed their African diasporic concept of percussion music.
There are many intersections between Leah Bowden’s research and her work as a performing artist. After interviewing surviving members of M’Boom including Warren Smith, Joe Chambers and Eli Fountain, she helped archive a collection of rare scores at the UC San Diego Geisel Library. She then founded El Otro Lado (“The Other Side”) a percussion ensemble featuring nine improvisors from the San Diego and Tijuana music scenes. El Otro Lado created new arrangements of this music and recorded a live album which is available for streaming via the link above.
Dr. Bowden completed an eight-year tenure with UC San Diego’s resident percussion ensemble, red fish blue fish from 2010 through 2018. During this time, she shared the stage with Eighth Blackbird, Bang on a Can All Stars, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Dalai Lama and many others. While at UC San Diego, she collaborated with composers, improvisers and scholars from around the world to produce and premier an extensive list of chamber works and interdisciplinary projects.
Leah Bowden was a founding organizer of the 501(c)(3) organization The Voices of Our City Choir, a collaboration between local musicians and people experiencing homelessness in San Diego. Dr. Bowden played drums with the choir for several years, and served as Board President in 2018. The choir (VOOCC) connects unsheltered individuals with opportunities and resources, and raises awareness about the housing crisis through live performance and public speaking. VOOCC has been featured on PBS, NPR and America’s Got Talent, and was the subject of a documentary by acclaimed film-maker Susan Polis Schutz.
Leah Bowden performs as a solo artist and in a wide variety of bands and projects, from popular to experimental music. She specializes in solo and ensemble percussion music. She has toured and recorded with The Forest, red fish blue fish, William Winant, Francisco Eme, The Red Notes, Tiger Milk Imports, Secret Drum Band, Man Forever, Aa (BIG A little a), Bonnie Whiting Smith and Lesley Mok. She is currently the drummer for Baby Bushka, a virtuoso eight-woman band that performs new arrangements of the music of Kate Bush. Baby Bushka regularly tours in the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Leah resides in Conway, Massachussetts with her husband Philip Bowden (Phil Skaller) and their dog Nyxie.
Image by Michele Zousmer.