R.I.P. Ivan Eugene Bowser Jr.

Ivan E. Bowser Jr. 1963

Ivan Bowser, from the 1963 Parkville High School yearbook

We learned over the Thanksgiving holiday of the death on Tuesday, November 22, 2011, of Mr. Ivan Bowser . We write here often (and unfortunately) of the passing of our peers in the Baltimore music scene. Sometimes we write of educators, mentors and influences on our shared ability and desire to make music. Ivan Bowser was all of these.

Mr. Bowser (I could never call him Ivan, even as an adult) was a major influence on the entire Parkville contingent of Baltimore musicians of our era. If you don’t believe me, add up the number of trumpet players within a 4 mile radius of Parkville who double on flute (as Mr. Bowser did). It’s a surprising number. I even doubled on flute, and I was a trombone player.

Mr. Bowser was my band teacher, first at Parkville Jr. High, and then all through Parkville High School (1961-64). He was the coolest guy I knew. He was passionate about the school band sounding good, even when it was just a rehearsal and the venue was a smelly cafeteria, and shared his insights on music and other things in small impromptu groups … like improvisational teaching. He held orchestra rehearsals daily, even when the orchestra totaled 6 people, and led by example as a working musician in addition to teaching. Oh, and he also coached the very successful school golf team–just to add to his cool factor.

Random Ivan Bowser memories:
• he knocked Miles Davis as a sloppy trumpet player
• he admired the work of Stan Freeberg and his musical collaborator, Billy May
• he could keep perfect time with his foot while holding a conversation
• he owned the first VW Beetle convertible I ever saw (and which I and a few friends proved could be lifted onto a sidewalk — he was neither impressed nor amused)
• he was very happy that Parkville H.S. did not have a marching band, and shared the band’s reticence when we had to pull one together for the occasional requisite community parade

Thanks to Mr. Bowser I was introduced to Hank Levy, Stan Freberg, Mozart, jazz, the double bass and German bow, the possibility of a brass player doubling on flute, the value of good meter, the value of diverse living. He was the “un-teacher” … teaching not always through instruction, but also by just offering something interesting to pay attention to.

The last time I saw Mr. Bowser was 40 years ago … I ran into him on break at a country club where we were both gigging, with different groups for different audiences. That seemed right somehow. Peace, Mr. Bowser.

Ivan Bowser with the Baltimore Inter High School Orchestra, 1946

Ivan Bowser Jr. (right) representing City College with the Baltimore Inter High School Orchestra, 1946 (from The Baltimore Sun archives, thanks to Donald Barto Sr.)

Mr. Bowser playing flute at the Parkville High School Jazz Night, 1964.

Mr. Bowser playing flute at the Parkville High School Jazz Night, 1964, with a combo from Hank Levy's band. (from the 1964 Parkville High School year book)


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9 Responses to “R.I.P. Ivan Eugene Bowser Jr.”

  1. In Honor of Ivan | B'Jam Says:

    […] was almost 3 years ago that we learned of the death of Ivan Bowser, Band Director at Parkville High School from 1954-1972, and at Loch Raven High after that. With the […]

  2. Robert G. Pielke Says:

    Egad…I just learned that he had passed. I played 1st Alto Sax in the band and orchestra — and was in his little experimental rock and roll combo for a couple of sock hops… Class of ’60.

  3. Nancy Kingsley Benton Says:

    Ivan was the most influential teacher in my life. He gave me opportunities to explore my love of music. I feel blessed that I was furtunate enough to be a student and friend of such a wonderful teacher and musician.

  4. Loren Rush Says:

    Mr Bowser (in later years, I was brazen enough to call him Ivan, but only ocassionally – and mostly out of respect or fear – anyway not very often). He is easily one of my favorite teachers, whose dedication and work ethic made music fun, profitable and a big part of my life. Thank you -you’ll be missed.

  5. Eric R Bowser Says:

    Thanks, to Don L and all those that wrote about my father Ivan. He could be tough, but if you wanted to learn about music, I don’t know who could could have learned more from. I can still remember him being sound asleep, and hollering to me downstairs, ” That’s a B flat ” while I was playing piano sonatas and other music. I still marvel everyday about his versatility in music. When I was in junior high I doubled on flute. He invited me to play with the band at Parkville Sr. and I thought I would be able to sight read the music. It turned out that there were 7 or 8 wind players that were all better than me. I was dumbfounded. Eric Bowser

  6. Don Barto Says:

    Yes Randy, his influence was MUCH wider. Thought out my life I have been compelled to drive Volkswagens….a steady sucession of 8 of them…until I finally got it right in 2004 and went for the New Beetle convertible. Midnight Blue was the closest I could get to black. Deep down I did think of it as my Mr. Bowser car.

  7. Randolph Fillmore Says:

    Contrary to Don Lehnhoff’s comment that Ivan Bowser was so “instrumental” in the phenomenon of trumpet players doubling on flute (I still double on flute and trumpet) in the Parkville area, I suggest that his influence was much wider. It got to be that when I first met a trumpet player in Baltimore, or one who was from Baltimore, someone I did not previously know…my first question was “What kind of flute do you have?”

  8. don Barto Says:

    You influenced me a lot, Bix.

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