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, and 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 career, and explores how collectivist ideals of the New York loft scene informed their Afrodiasporic concept of percussion music.
There are many intersections between Dr. 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 to perform and record new arrangements of M’Boom’s music.
Leah was a percussionist with UC San Diego’s resident percussion ensemble red fish blue fish from 2010 through 2017. Directed by Steven Schick, they shared the stage with Eighth Blackbird, Bang on a Can All Stars, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Dalai Lama and many others both nationally and internationally. 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 was the organizations first Board President. 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, specializing in all-percussion music, jazz/ popular idioms and American experimentalism. She has toured and recorded with many noteworthy percussion ensembles including The Forest, red fish blue fish, William Winant Percussion Group, Secret Drum Band, Man Forever (Kid Millions), and Aa (BIG A little a). She has also performed with Steven Schick, Anthony Davis, Mark Dresser, Nicole Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Dafnis Prieto, Bonnie Whiting Smith/ Lesley Mok, Francisco Eme, Corey Fogel, Lisa Shonberg, Senem Pirler and many others.
Dr. Bowden is the drummer and co-founder of Baby Bushka, a virtuoso eight-woman band that performs new arrangements of the music of Kate Bush. Baby Bushka has performed throughout the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland.
Leah currently resides in Conway, Massachussetts.
Leah Bowden and Warren Smith sorting archival materials at his apartment in Harlem, New York in May, 2021.