Kris Tiner is an accomplished jazz trumpet player, composer and educator that will soon be inducted into the Cal State Bakersfield Alumni Hall of Fame. A Wasco native, he credits the town for the many teachers that inspired him to follow his dreams of becoming a professional artist.
Tiner attended local schools, including Karl F. Clemens, Palm Avenue, Thomas Jefferson and Wasco High School.
"I have nothing but fond memories. Wasco is a beautiful place to grow up in. I had all of my family here; my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We always had large family gatherings," Tiner said.
"Even though it was a small town, I had world-class music and art teachers that inspired me along the way. I had teachers that encouraged me to think about creativity and the world beyond the small town."
Tiner first picked up the trumpet in 4th grade and has played the instrument ever since. He said his father was the one that encouraged him, though it wasn't his first choice.
"It was the one I got stuck with when they assigned the instruments in school, so we had to find one, and my dad bought me one in a pawn shop. We brought it home, and he showed me how to play."
He was first introduced to jazz after discovering the music of Louis Armstrong in his grandparent's record collection.
"I went to the Wasco public library and checked out over and over again his records. I spent a lot of time there."
In high school, he fell in love with the music of Miles Davis when he learned about him through his band director, Rob Martens.
"It was an extension of what I heard in Louis Armstrong. With Miles, he played jazz, but his albums are mixed with everything from classical to hip hop. There are so many different colors in his music. He is still my favorite."
"Once I got interested in jazz, it made me dream about Paris, New York and the other cities I heard about in the music."
Of the jazz genre, he said, it's the freedom that the music gives you.
"It is a way to be expressive and creative in the moment. It's like pure communication. That is what inspired me about the music when I heard it in that it could just say so much. As a kid, I wasn't comfortable talking to people. I found a way to do that through music and exploring jazz."
Tiner had his first band at 17, where he played at CSUB and different coffee houses in Bakersfield.
Since then, he has performed with his group, the Empty Cage Quartet, whose 2008 CD Stratostrophic on Portugal's Clean Feed record label was hailed as "one of the best things in jazz to emerge in the new millennium" by the UK magazine The Wire.
He played in a duo with guitarist Mike Baggetta called Tin/Bag, where they toured throughout the US and Europe. Their CD Bridges was chosen as one of the 10 best jazz recordings of 2011 in Time Out New York.
In addition, he played for a long time with a band called Industrial Jazz Group, where he toured and recorded for about 10 years.
"We played at the Teatro Manzoni in Milan, Italy. That was very special for me because it is one of the premier jazz venues in Europe. We were treated very well for three days and sold out the auditorium. It's the biggest venue I've played in Europe."
Currently, he does a lot of work with pianist Cathlene Pineda.
"We've played around California and on the West Coast. We are working on a recording now."
He has played on over 80 albums to rave reviews performing on five continents.
"A quarter of those with my own band. I do a lot of playing with other people's projects as well."
His music has been heard on MTV, NBC, PBS and Comedy Central. He is also the founder of Epigraph Records, an independent label dedicated to documenting new creative music recorded in Bakersfield.
A highlight in his career has been continuing to explore, write and play music with people he cares about.
"When I was in high school learning about jazz and reading about the small clubs in New York City, I had these fantasies of being able to play music in that environment. I've gotten to fulfill those dreams and meet and play with many of my heroes; those are all highlights."
He said the best part about being a musician is the relationships and the community.
"I've met incredible people and collaborated with extremely talented people. I play with musicians I listened to and idolized as a kid. That's part of what makes it so rewarding, the possibility of getting connected with a network of amazing people."
Tiner encourages others to consider the art of music.
"Music is for everyone. You don't have to be a professional. It can enrich your life and connect you to a community of people who appreciate beauty and collaboration."
Tiner has a bachelor's degree in music from CSUB. He holds an MFA in African-American Improvisational Music from the California Institute of the Arts.
He has also spent time in West Africa.
"I played and studied west African drumming along with jazz. It's the source of where jazz originated. Many of the rhythms you hear in jazz have roots in West African music, meaning it permeates all the music developed in the America's and the Caribbean."
In addition to being an accomplished musician, Tiner is also an educator. He has worked as the director of jazz studies at Bakersfield College for 19 years, six of those years full-time running the program.
"While working part-time for BC, I also taught at CSUB and a couple of years at Cal Arts."
Of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he said it is a big honor.
"It's really great for them to recognize someone from the arts. Many talented artists and people from the music community have come through that school. I'm glad to see a musician get that award.
"CSUB was special, and there were many instructors there that encouraged me to take music seriously and gave me the tools to be successful in it."
Tiner has received other accolades, including a statewide jazz education award from the California Music Educators Association and the 2023 outstanding music educator award from the Kern County Music Educators Association.
Tiner has big hopes for the future.
"Most of the work I do is focused on sustaining local culture and educating young musicians about not only their own practice but how to be responsible to the community and support each other. I travel to all these places and have experienced different music scenes, making me want to work harder to improve what we have here in this area because this is home."
He works continuously on his craft.
"I am always striving to improve. I practice and try to make a little progress every day, so there is always more you can do, like write or plan a concert. It's about taking one day at a time and trying to contribute as much as possible.
"I've made a lot of friendships. It's a global community of creative people that encourage and inspire each other."
Tiner is grateful for his humble beginnings in Wasco for setting a foundation for him to realize all of his musical goals.
"From a very young age, it was instilled in me the importance of quality education and the importance of community. That is what I look for in music and what I look for in the projects that I do."