Joseph Bowie's life has been dominated by music since childhood. Son of a retired St. Louis music teacher and younger brother of Broadway arranger Byron K. Bowie and legendary trumpeter Lester Bowie, Joseph began trombone lessons at age 11. By age 15, Bowie joined St. Louis' Black Artist Group and advanced to studying with saxophonists Julius Hemphill, Hamiett Bluiett and Oliver Lake, all artists of enormous influence and reputation. At age 19, Bowie, with other members of the Black Artist Group, left St. Louis for Paris.
In 1973, Bowie returned to the States via New York where,,with Bobo Shaw, he organized the Human Arts Ensemble and began constantly seeking to redefine the boundaries of jazz. This period proved to be fruitful for Bowie, who concurrently managed the legendary La Mama Theater and perform with all the major jazz innovators of the day - Cecil Taylor, Frank Lowe and Anthony Braxton. Also during this period, Bowie formed the St. Louis Creative Ensemble with altoist Luther Thomas and performed with the New York All-Star Blues Band which featured legendary bluesman Left Hand Frank and contemporaries Philip Wilson and Henry Threadgill.
Still largely dissatisfied with the rigid confines of the jazz idiom, Joseph Bowie set out to formulate a musical concept fusing his varied musical experiences with something danceable and widely accessible - something commercially viable that still allowed for freedom and improvisation. In 1978, with this in mind, Bowie composed a band that combined conscious-raising lyrics, a funky rhythmic approach, sinewy bass lines, metallic guitar, assaultive horns topped with maniacal vocals to create the distinctive sound that became Defunkt's trademark. From its inception until 1983, Defunkt turned New York's radical underground music scene on its ear producing three classic albums, Defunkt, Razor's Edge and Thermonuclear Sweat, and after a glorious beginning Defunkt disbanded and Joseph Bowie went into self-imposed exile on the Island of St. Croix to reorganize his life and gain some strength. In 1986, Joseph Bowie returned to New York, reassembled Defunkt, and two-years later released the critically acclaimed album Defunkt in America.
The following year, Defunkt signed with Enemy Records and has just concluded a lucrative four-year association during which they released 6 recordings including the critically acclaimed Defunkt Special Edition Tribute to Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix. Now in its 17th year, Defunkt has again received wide critical acclaim m in Europe and Japan for their Spring 1995 release One World, their first recording on the Dutch BlueFunk label. Bowie describes this latest effort, which he produced, as a pivotal move to a larger, more polished production, incorporating an expanded horn section and backup vocalists, representing the beginning of Defunkt Music Incorporated: A Big Band for the 21st Century.
In addition to his work as leader and founder of Defunkt, Bowie's musical pursuits are more diverse than ever. Among his involvements are his integral membership of the Chicago-based African blues trio the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, touring with Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra, performing with the David Murray Big Band, guest lecturing for the Smithsonian Institution's Campus on the Mall Program, and performing and recording with the late pianist Don Pullen, the African Brazilian Connection and the Chief Cliff Singers, a Native American drumming ensemble, on Pullen's final project for BlueNote Records. Bowie also tours and records with a number of European artists including the Vienna Arts Orchestra, Count Basic and the Sebastian Piekarek Quartet.
Still, Joseph Bowie's first love and concern is Defunkt, and after a decade of hard work and determination it is apparent that the international acclaim and reputation of the ensemble is steadily growing as evidenced by the consistently sold out European and North American audiences for which the group performs.
In 1996, Defunkt embarked on a new relationship with European tour promoter, Gert Pfankuch of Musikburo. Through Gert's efforts, Defunkt performed to sold-out audiences at all the major summer music festivals, including Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival, the La Villette Jazz Festival in Vienne, France, Stuttgart's Jazz Open Festival, and the Cactus Festival in Brugge, Belgium. The band has shared the stage with artists such as Larry Graham and Graham Central Station, Isaac Hayes, Marcus Miller, Cassandra Wilson, Maceo Parker and the Groove Collective. The band is a main attraction throughout Europe.