Ulysses Owens Jr.

Independent

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About
 
 
Ulysses Owens Jr. is an artist “who takes a backseat to no one” (The New York 
Times), a label that seemingly describes his remarkable ascent as one of today’s 
premier drummers, or perhaps, his evolution as a producer, composer, educator, 
and entrepreneur. In fact, these words reach further back, to the time when 
Owens found music. At age two, Owens’s mother Gwendolyn, the choir director 
of their Pentecostal congregation, brought her son to rehearsal and gave him the 
best seat in the house: directly behind the drummer. Her priority was keeping 
track of him while she was conducting, but soon enough, she noticed he was 
actually keeping time. When that hired professional fell through, the boy was 
ready to assume his seat. 
 
Ulysses Owens Jr. is steadily establishing himself as a leader in his generation of 
jazz artists, admired for his sensitive, fiery, and complex playing, vivid display of 
textural nuance, and gift for propelling a band with charisma and integrity. Both 
humble in person and imposing behind a kit, Owens is a two-time Grammy® 
Award winner who has earned his stripes as a member of bassist Christian 
McBride’s acclaimed trio and the driving force of McBride’s famed big band. His 
2009 debut recording “It's Time For U” featured several original compositions and 
arrangements. In 2012, he released a second album, “Unanimous” (Criss Cross 
Jazz), featuring Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton, Jaleel Shaw, Michael 
Dease, and Christian Sands. 
 
In 2010, Ulysses received his first Grammy® for his performance on Kurt Elling's 
"Dedicated To You," and his second Grammy® for the Christian McBride Big 
Band album, "The Good Feeling." This year, he garnered a third nomination for 
Christian McBride’s Trio album, “Out Here.” Owens flexes his versatility across 
projects, having toured and recorded with artists including McBride, Wynton 
Marsalis, Kurt Elling, Diane Schuur, Renee Fleming, Monty Alexander, Terence 
Blanchard, Russell Malone, and Mulgrew Miller. This year marks the release of 
two new albums as a leader: his third album, “Onward and Upward;” and “Time is 
Now,” the debut album of New Century Jazz Quintet, co-led with Takeshi 
Obayashi for the Japanese label, Spice Of Life. 
 
A native of Jacksonville, FL, Owens credits his earliest mentors with instilling in 
him a devotion to personal growth at every phase of his career. At 14, Owens 
was accepted to Douglas Anderson School of the Arts as a classical 
percussionist, and in his freshman year, surpassed all expectation by winning a 
seat in the school’s top-tier jazz band. “That first opportunity led me directly to 
 
jazz,” he recalls. Wynton Marsalis played Jacksonville that same year, and their 
meeting became further assurance for Owens that his dreams were attainable. At 
16, he played with the All-State Jazz Orchestra, began running his own jam 
sessions in addition to playing at church, and pursued professional gigs in 
Jacksonville right through the end of high school. 
 
Exploring potential colleges, Owens met drummer/educator John Riley, who 
introduced him to the music of Miles Davis and inspired him to study jazz in New 
York City. Awarded a full-scholarship to The Juilliard School, Owens was one of 
just two drummers tapped by Wynton Marsalis to join the Juilliard Jazz Studies 
program in its inaugural year. The move to New York City was pivotal. At Juilliard, 
Owens forged his most important mentor relationship, with the legendary 
Mulgrew Miller. “Mulgrew always told me that artistically, you always have to be 
what you know you are intrinsically. The industry and the world will try to shift you 
from that.” Reflecting on those formative days when Miller signed every email to 
him “Onward and Upward,” Owens could not think of a more fitting title for his 
latest album. 
 
As a producer, Owens is gaining international prominence, with nearly 20 albums 
to his credit and six full-length projects in production this year. JazzTimes 
describes his production on vocalist Olivia Foschi’s debut album, “Perennial 
Dreamer,” as “fresh, innovative, and refreshingly uplifting....appealing to a new 
generation of listeners, while still honoring jazz as a tradition.” His album for 
vocalist Abiah, “Life As A Ballad,” climbed the Top 20 Billboard Charts in latter 
part of 2012. Upcoming highlights include his second release in the Japanese 
and international markets with New Century Jazz Quintet, as well as the highly-
anticipated release, “Timeless,” from rising star Alicia Olatuja, who garnered 
international attention as a soloist at the 2012 Inauguration of President Barack 
Obama. 
 
In 2008, Owens and his family founded the non-for-profit organization, Don’t Miss 
a Beat, Inc. with the mission of combining music and art with a focus on 
academic achievement, civic engagement, and empowering inner city students to 
strive for their dreams. Owens has taken a hands-on role in the strategy and 
daily initiatives of the organization, which SERVES OVER 500 STUDENTS 
SINCE 2008 has been endorsed by the City of Jacksonville. This summer, DMAB 
reaches a milestone on behalf of 12 deserving students: Owens and his 
leadership created a cross-cultural student exchange, culminating in an enriching 
group excursion to Paris. Owens is also a co-founder and curator of the 
Abyssinian Jazz Vespers, a year-long series that presents world-class jazz artists 
at the historic landmark church in Harlem. 
 
At heart, Owens’s approaches music at a spiritual level, blending his musical 
lineage with his own eloquent, swinging drum sound. “I am most competitive with 
myself. And for me, it’s not so much about my drumming as it is about connecting 
to everyone else in the band, and helping communicate what they need to say.” 
 
It’s a philosophy that is taking him everywhere he wants to go. Owens has been 
honored with a 2014 Global Music Award, 2013 ASCAP Plus Award, designated 
a 2014 Downbeat Rising Star and appeared as a TED X Jacksonville performer. 
In 2015, he continues touring with the McBride Trio, and remains in demand for 
new projects, including his first Artist-in-Residency at the Park Avenue Armory in 
their “Under Construction Series.”