On the Beat in New York Jacksonville Drummer in Juilliard Jazz Program

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Guilfoyle, Staff writer

When Westside resident Ulysses Owens was 2 years old, he grabbed the plastic sticks holding his mother's new shoes in shape and started beating.

Sixteen years and four drum kits later, Owens, 18, has drummed himself into a pioneering jazz program at New York's prestigious Juilliard School.

"I'm happiest when I am behind a drum kit playing music," Owens said.

After waiting for an ideal climate and environment, the school felt the time was right for a jazz program. Victor Goines, director of the new Institute for Jazz Studies, said Owens was the "kind of person we were looking for" for this fall's inaugural class.

It was his talent and intellectual perspective, Goines said, that helped Owens emerge from 200 applicants to clinch one of only two drum positions in the 18-piece jazz big band.

"It was very close in a lot of regards," Goines said. "At his audition, he was prepared to play all of the things we had asked applicants to play, and on that particular day he played them better."

The Douglas Anderson School of The Arts graduate is aware of what will be required of him to walk to the same beat of former Juilliard greats Miles Davis, Sir Ronald Hannah and Gary Bartz. But, Owens said, he's really excited about it.

"I would actually rather [be in] this situation than just going to a regular institution where I can be distracted with having to do other things," Owens said. "It's really what I desire; it's perfect."

Owens' open-mindedness was another factor that earmarked him for the program.

"He is willing to learn all about the philosophical history of jazz and other background information," said Goines, commenting on Owen's approach to jazz. "He is not just interested in one style. He's a very serious young man who knows what he wants to do. His work ethic appears to be very strong."

And work he will.

School begins Aug. 23 and the premiere concert for the new program is Oct. 30. After this icebreaker, along with some school-year performances at Juilliard and Alice Tully Hall, the jazz band will perform every two weeks at major New York jazz clubs. During the spring and summer breaks, they also will tour various jazz festivals.

The academic program appears just as challenging. The conservatory nature of the college demands students study core subjects such as history, composition and arranging, improvisation and elements of music.

In fact, so serious is Juilliard about its new program that it is offering an unprecedented 18 scholarships to the 18 big band members to assure they are free of distraction and can commit wholeheartedly to the program. …