Meadows Dean Provides Relaxed Approach

November 5, 2008  

By Nadia Dabbakeh

Jose Bowen is an energetic, California-casual jazz pianist who is attempting to channel SMU’s old-fashioned traditions into a more relaxed future.

Bowen, now in his third year as dean of the Meadows School of the Arts, said he had to adjust to SMU’s formality when he arrived in 2006.

“I think it’s part SMU, part Dallas culture, but I was surprised by the formal atmosphere at Meadows,” said Bowen. “I had to buy a suit when I got here!”

Faculty who work with Bowen say he’s making progress in his efforts to loosen up Meadows to reflect 21st century teaching approaches.

Music history professor Kim Corbet said, “He’s trying to make an impact and he’s on his way there.”

Bowen started his teaching career in Britain at the University of South Hampton for about five years, and then he moved on to Stanford University, where he taught for 14 years. When his wife got a job in Washington, D.C., he taught and received tenure at Georgetown University, where he built a new theatre and performing arts program.

Bowen made one last stop as dean of fine arts at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio before finally coming to SMU.

“SMU is a great place, and my family and I are much happier in Dallas,” said Bowen. “And Meadows is a great place, I’m lucky to be at a school that has such tradition.”

Making change at Meadows

Bowen said he wants to change the way education works. He wants it to be more interesting, with room for more discovery. His goal is to bring together a combination of disciplines – everyone from dancers to musicians to film makers should work together in an ideal environment, so that they can feed off each other and learn from one another.

Kim Corbet said Bowen is “trying to start breaking down divisions by introducing people to interdisciplinary courses where students would work together to create a more real world environment.”

“Students need the opportunity to mix it up with other people with different ideas and different approaches,” Corbet said. “Jose is trying to make that happen.”

Bowen says teaching allows him to have direct contact with students, helping them break boundaries.

If he doesn’t teach, Bowen said he would be stuck in his office and wouldn’t get to know the students’ perspectives, what their issues are, and how to work on them.

Former jazz history student Tyler Chick said Bowen’s teaching style was energetic and engaging. He invited students to come to his office and to not be shy. Chick said students found themselves wanting to participate.

“I initially had an interest in jazz when I took his class,” Chick said. “But not a grasp on the history. I left with a definite understanding of where jazz came from, how it started, and where it is today.”

Staying musical with a ‘Jampact’ schedule

Bowen is not only a jazz history professor, but a musician as well. He plays the piano for his electronic jam band, Jampact, with Corbet, who plays the trombone and synthesizer. The band also consists of two more faculty members, Akira Sato (trumpet) and Jamal Mohamed (drums), as well as Jamal’s brother Buddy Mohamed (bass).

Bowen said the band has “a world jazz influence that mixes different cultures, most commonly Indian music, something that innovators like the Beatles did before us.”

Corbet recalls putting together a welcoming musical performance for Bowen when he came to SMU two years ago. Instead of just sitting back and enjoying the show, Bowen said he’d like to play and joined in. Corbet says he immediately made an impression with his energetic attitude.

Jampact performs at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the front steps of Meadows, or in the Atrium once it cools down. Tonight, the band will perform at 8 p.m. at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center, where the Varsity room on the lower floor with be transformed into a jazz club with food and beverages.

Staying busy

Along with jazz, Bowen is a man of many interests. He says he’s a soccer fanatic, and a huge Chelsea supporter from when he lived in the U.K.

“I’ve got Chelsea on my screensaver and hanging from my car,” said Bowen. “It’s a different kind of sickness, we’re die hard fans.”

Bowen plays on a local team called Real Suburbia (kind of like Real Madrid, but not so professional), and though he says he’s broken a couple ribs, he’s happy that they may make the playoffs.

“I’m not very good, but I love the game,” he said. “It’s kind of good to be the worst guy on the team, there’s something humbling about being tolerated.”

Bowen likes to bike and often rides to work for exercise. He also cooks and likes to garden and, in fact, grows his own herbs.

The dean said the last thing he wants is for students to be scared of coming by his office to chat with him.

“Scary is not good for school,” he said. “There are many diverse possibilities, and I’m making a conscious attempt to create a more laid back, relaxed atmosphere.”

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One Response to “Meadows Dean Provides Relaxed Approach”

  1. Dean Bowen Accepts Second Appointment : SMU Daily Mustang on January 20th, 2011 12:25 pm

    [...] Bowen arrived at SMU in 2006 from Miami University of Ohio, where he was Dean of Fine Arts. Bowen also is a jazz pianist and performs with a band of fellow SMU faculty members. [...]