"Jazz is, and has always been, the central purpose and passion of my life for over fifty years. I am truly honored to be recognized by the NEA for my contributions to this unique and beautiful art form -- jazz. To stand on the shoulders of the amazing jazz artists who paved the way is truly wonderful. This is one of the most amazing moments of my life, and I thank the NEA for this prestigious award."
Jimmy Owens wears many hats. He is a trumpeter, composer, arranger, educator, and music education consultant. His involvement as an advocate regarding the rights of jazz artists led to the founding of the Jazz Musician's Emergency Fund, a program of the Jazz Foundation of America.
Owens attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City, and studied composition with Henry Bryant and trumpet with Donald Byrd. Since sitting in with Miles Davis at age 15, Owens has performed with many jazz legends, including Kenny Barron, Count Basie, Kenny Burrell, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Archie Shepp, Billy Taylor, and Gerald Wilson. Between 1969 and 1972, he worked on the David Frost television program, whose musical director was Billy Taylor. At the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival, he was the youngest of a group of trumpet players to participate in a tribute to Louis Armstrong. In 1972, he played at the inaugural Ellington Fellowship Concert at Yale. Owens was one of the original members of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and in 1974 was musical director of the New York Jazz Repertory Company.
Owens also is a well-regarded composer. His works have been performed nationally by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and internationally by the Metropole Orchestra (Netherlands) and the Hanover Radio Philharmonic (Germany). Performances with his band Jimmy Owens Plus have taken him to Asia, South and Central America, the Middle East, and across Europe.
As an educator, Owens has conducted workshops, seminars, lectures, and concerts at major colleges and universities throughout the world. He helped found Collective Black Artists, a not-for-profit jazz education and performing organization, in 1969. He was closely involved with the Jazzmobile program as well. He serves on the board of the Jazz Foundation of America and is a past board member of New York City's American Federation of Musicians, Local 802 from 1998 to 2009. He has been on music panels for the New York Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Owens is active as an advocate for jazz artists rights and a proponent of jazz music's recognition in America's culture. His expertise and knowledge is often called upon for issues relating to health and pension benefits for jazz artists. One of his major accomplishments in this area is his stewardship in founding the Jazz Musician's Emergency Fund, a program to help individual musicians with medical, financial, and housing assistance.
In 2008, Owens received The Benny Golson Jazz Master Award at Howard University in Washington, DC.
Jimmy Owens-Kenny Barron Quintet, You Had Better Listen, Collectibles, 1968
Archie Shepp, The Way Ahead, Impulse!, 1968
Billy Taylor, Jazzmobile Allstars, Taylor Made Entertainment, 1989
Peaceful Walking, Jay-Oh Jazz Recordings, 2007
The Monk Project, IPO Recordings, 2011
Photo © 2011 Stephanie Myers. All rights reserved.
Trumpeter and flugelhorn player, composer, arranger, educator, and advocate Jimmy Owens talks about his life in jazz. [34:24]