A Look Into Steven M. Lee and the Memphis Jazz Workshop

A Look Into Steven M. Lee and the Memphis Jazz Workshop

A look into steven m. lee

and the memphis jazz workshop

by Duy Nguyen and Alden Zuck

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Steven M. Lee is the artist, director, and founder of the Memphis Jazz Workshop.

Steven was born in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Memphis around the age of 1. He graduated Carver High School with the class of 1987 and left to Knoxville to study with ‘the great Donna Brown, who is a phenomenal jazz pianist’.

He left there and moved to Vegas, traveled around Europe, back to Memphis, and then resided in New York in 1996 for roughly ten to twelve years performing around the city. He was also the music director for several musicians and worked with a host of musicians that he ‘had the pleasure and blessing of working with’. He then left in 2009 to move back to Memphis and has been teaching ever since.

Steven talks about his path . . .

“I had no idea I would be teaching for these number of years, but it’s good and I really think of it as a ministry, not a job. I think I was called to help motivate kids and give them the tools they need to be successful. I was blessed to have some band mentors that I can still look up to today and talk to, that experience is what I want to share with these kids.”

Steven has been playing music since he was eight years old and has always had a certain feeling that brings him peace when he is playing that goes back for years.

“I feel right at home when I’m sitting down playing a piece of music, especially improve because it’s more freedom. It’s nothing that planned, you just go for it. You know all the ideas that you’ve practiced and studied for and you put it together and tell a story. It’s the freedom of expression”.

The Memphis Jazz Workshop is a non-profit organization committed to cultivate young musicians in the Memphis area by giving them opportunities for learning and performance opportunities with professional local musicians while embracing the legacy of jazz music at Memphis. Memphis has a very rich heritage of jazz music which the world is familiar with but unfortunately the city of Memphis is not. Our goal is to first start a workshop and let the city expand from the workshop, from there we have other things in store for the city which pertains to jazz that will be revealed at a later time.

The motivation for the Creation of the Memphis Jazz Workshop

“If the students aren’t inspiring to become a professional jazz musician, one thing I would like them to leave with is skills they can transfer. One thing we teach the kids is you have to practice a couple hours a day and you have to know what to practice, that’s time management and discipline.”

Steven also describes how when one is learning a difficult piece of music you start out a lot of times thinking there’s no way to learn such a hard piece, but once you get it down it is the feeling of being successful through the music that he also wants the kids to feel.

“The kids who are serious about doing this for a living, they have to understand the importance of practicing and the importance of relationships.”

Steven places the importance on creating relationships because the people that the kids are in the band with now could be looking for a musician in the future. Having this network of musicians through this program is important when pursuing a career as a musician.

Hutchison Music School

The Memphis Jazz Workshop did a collaboration with Hutchison Music School for the whole month of February. “They have a piano lab and the perfect rooms, it was just the perfect spot to do a workshop. It’s a great feeling to work with Tracey Ford at Hutchison, she’s always kind and whatever we needed there was never a problem. We just want to publicly thank Hutchison school for their space and time.”

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Steven M. Lee

“What I have to say to the city is just to support the Memphis Jazz Workshop, not just financially but just come to our concerts, send your kids, and if you know of a child that’s talented and wants to learn more about jazz and music, send them too! We start at age 11-18 and are open to any child from all over the city, we just need kids who are really serious about music and we need your support.”

Come out to support the Memphis Jazz Workshop and watch everybody who has been a part of camp for the winter months perform in front of their friends and family! They haven’t selected a specific place or time yet, but it will be around the third week of April.


Ulysses Owens and the Students

“I’ve been to a lot of jazz music workshops but how Ulysses presented his workshop was perfect”.

When Ulysses came to teach the workshop, he didn’t just come and play for the kids like some people do, but he had each student get up and play as a band as he gave some tough love and critiques, allowing the kids to be engaged the full two hours. The first hour was ensemble playing and learning different techniques and the second hour was based on entrepreneurship. What Ulysses did was not just about playing an instrument he explains how you can make a living as a musician.

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Multi-GRAMMY Award winner, Ulysses Owens Jr. Talks of Jazz and Students

Multi-GRAMMY Award winner, Ulysses Owens Jr. Talks of Jazz and Students

Multi-GRAMMY Award Winner, Ulysses Owens Jr., Talks of Jazz and Students

By Justin Flowers and Alden Zuck

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I f you don’t already know Ulysses Owens Jr., then you’re missing out. Ulysses is one of the most sought-after drummers in his generation. A multi-GRANMY Award winning drummer and percussionist that has played with a few of the most successful jazz ensembles in this century. Ulysses studied music and jazz at Julliard and now currently resides in Manhattan, New York.

Ulysses Owens Jr. is coming to Memphis on the 27th of February for a concert at Hutchison school.

This concert benefits the Memphis Jazz Workshop.

Where it all started

Ulysses career began at the early age of two because his mother, who was the choir director at their church, always put Ulysses near the drummer so that she could monitor him and make sure he didn’t get in trouble. One day the drummer got up, and naturally, Ulysses went and started playing. Fast forward to age 6 or 7, the young musician took over playing the drums at his church and started playing for the different choirs and organizations. This moment was when his love really started for the instrument. By the time that he was 14 or 15 years old he has had a lot of experience playing drums for the church in his hometown of Jacksonville and so he then began to play a lot of gigs.

 “There was something about jazz that really kept my attention, and the ability to be really creative in that art form really captured me.”

Ulysses knew that he wanted to move to New York and go to college, so he went to go visit and talk to a great drum educator. He told Ulysses that he was confident but that he sounded too much like a church musician and if he really wants to play this music he has to dive in and study it.

“So, probably when I was 16 years old is when I fell in love with the music, and literally from about the time I was 16 until 25 I always listened to jazz so I really digested a lot of records and dissected a lot of records and that just led me to a whole journey.”

Personal Highlights

“One of my highlights would be having the opportunity to visit places like Japan and share my music for really amazing fans that absolutely love the music and that are not just into the idea of jazz musicians who are famous, but if you have a real talent for the craft and you have a true authentic statement then they love you. I would also say another highlight is having the opportunity to play with my heroes, people like Christian McBride and Wynton Marsalis and all the other jazz masters that I’ve loved and had a chance to work with. Those are probably the biggest highlights.”

Students and jazz

Ulysses believes that students should study jazz because this music is the roots behind anything they listen to, it could not have come to be without jazz. He states that jazz music basically comes from New Orleans, and when the great migration happened it started to spread. Jazz spread into church music, blues, gospel music, rock and roll, hip hop, and then funk. “All of that is on the tree of jazz”

“I think that anybody who wants to take a path into music needs to first study the origins of music. Then they at least have somewhat of an understanding about this music and they can then go from there. If they don’t have that formal music instruction then the level of reach or impact that they can make is going to be very, very limited.”

Even if a student is not wanting to pursue jazz as a career, Ulysses describes how there are still many benefits to studying jazz music. This type of music has a large influence on history, and so studying it through a historical perspective is beneficial in itself. He also mentions how there is an element in jazz that no other music has, and that is improvisation, which is the ability to create on the spot.

“This quality in life is major. Being able to say that life is throwing any sort of challenge my way and that I’m just going to improvise my way through it and find my way is a very key quality that I think everybody needs.”

Ulysses Owens Jr. is coming to Memphis on the 27th of February for a concert at Hutchison school (Click here for more information) and you definitely don’t want to miss out on this performance! You will truly “see someone who really believes in the power of music, especially as it pertains to community.” Ulysses is very big on it not being just about him getting on stage to play some music, but he believes that music has the power to express things that nothing else can. When you come to this concert, you will have the opportunity to not only see a highly skilled musician, but see a man who is truly inspiring.

About the memphis jazz workshop

Under the artistic direction of founder Stephen M. Lee, Memphis Jazz Workshop is a non-profit organization committed to cultivating young musicians by providing learning and performance opportunities with professional artists while embracing Jazz as our regional art form. Memphis Jazz Workshop was formed under the umbrella of LeeJazzOmega, Inc.

Check out their website at memphisjazzworkshop.org/

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