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

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