‘When They See Us’: How Composer Kris Bowers Evoked The Fear, Pain & Innocence In Ava DuVernay’s Series – Crew Call Podcast

Composer Kris Bowers has exploded on the film and TV music scene in the wake of his sublime work on the three-time Oscar-winning Green Book. Not only did Bowers compose the upbeat jazzy road music, was Mahershala Ali’s piano hands during production, but he literally had to transcribe all of Dr. Don Shirley’s pieces by ear. You see, Shirley never wrote any of his music down. For the Los Angeles native Julliard-educated pianist, it was a feasible exercise that brought him back to his younger musician days.

This Emmy season, Bowers’ moving notes can be heard in Ava DuVernay’s limited Netflix series, When They See Us. It’s the gripping re-telling of the Central Park 5 –the five Harlem teenagers who in 1989 were convicted of a rape they didn’t commit. Watching these poor young men be framed and subjected to a cruel, unnecessary life in prison, and tumultuous life on parole, triggers a range of emotions from intense sadness to anger. In our interview here, Bowers explains how he managed putting music to such drama and shares with us a deep story on how When They See Us personally resonated with him. Bowers says his style was “based in improvisation”, reacting to what he saw after watching scenes “over and over again.”

I’m to trying to make sure that the music that I’m writing is helping serve a feeling, just like an actor sees words and delivers them in a certain way,” explains the composer.

Following his 2011 win at the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition in Washington, D.C., Bowers was quickly recognized by Aretha Franklin who mentored the young musician during the latter part of her life. Bowers even taught the multi-platinum legend how to play piano. He talks about his working relationship with Franklin and more on our latest episode of Crew Call.


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