Fascinating rhythm

Grammy winner mentors Clay band students

Kile Brewer
Posted 12/13/17

OAKLEAF – It’s not every day that students get to learn from someone who has earned one of the top honors in their field, but that’s what happened Monday at Oakleaf Junior High.

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Fascinating rhythm

Grammy winner mentors Clay band students

Two-time Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. sat in with the Oakleaf Junior High School jazz band Monday to help them with a few songs they are working on for upcoming performances.
Kile Brewer

OAKLEAF – It’s not every day that students get to learn from someone who has earned one of the top honors in their field, but that’s what happened Monday at Oakleaf Junior High.

Jacksonville native and two-time Grammy award winning jazz drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. held a clinic for the Oakleaf Junior High School Jazz Band. While he performed for the students, he also gave them a few pointers to help prepare for upcoming competitions and performances.

“Things like this are incredibly important to me. Jacksonville is still in a place where there’s not a lot of professional talent here. Those of us who are connected, and living our dreams need to stay connected here.” said Owens, who founded Don’t Miss a Beat, an organization that helps youth stay in school through focusing on music and other arts.

School Band Director Michael Summers often brings in clinicians to work with the students to give them new insight into how they can improve. Summers was introduced to Owens through his brother-in-law, Ben Norman, who met Owens at an all-district band event while in their teens.

Over the years, both men kept in touch, even as Owens moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School and began travelling the world in jazz ensembles. Norman asked Owens to stop by Oakleaf and offer some expertise.

Owens, who was described by The New York Times as an artist “who takes a back seat to no one,” spent a small portion of his time wowing students with his drumming prowess. However, he spent the majority of the class working on a few small things that could improve the sound and feeling of the three pieces of music the band performed.

“In jazz, there’s a lot of stuff that’s on the paper, and a whole lot of stuff that’s not on the paper,” Owens said. “I’d like to hear a lot more joy in the music.”

These may sound like abstracted suggestions – they really are. That is the nature of jazz. The band can play the music note for note perfect, but Owens, through his extensive training and natural gift, took them a step further, where musical precision blends with feeling and becomes something more cohesive and complete.

First off, Owens moved the rhythm section – piano, bass and drums – closer to the band. Though Owens may seem biased, he explained that the rhythm section, especially the drummer, leads the band. The director, he said, is only there to give the drummer what he needs to lead the band through the music.

The band’s drummer, Nathan Summers – the school band director’s son – was all ears. The eighth grader has his sights set high in the music world. The younger Summers, a two-time all-state band member, hopes to follow in Owens’ footsteps to attend Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, and pursue a career in music. In November, Summers was selected again to take part in the 2017-18 All-State Middle School Band in Tampa.

“I’ve been using a drum set since fourth grade,” Nathan said. “[Owens] showed me a new rhythm that I couldn’t play before. Now that I’ve tried it, it seems much easier.”

Summers’ father thinks that several of the band students at Oakleaf Junior could have music in their futures as long as they stick with it and continue to receive help from professionals like Owens.

“He’s probably the best, or at least one of the best, drummers to come out of the state of Florida,” Michael Summers said. “I want to emphasize that this can be a career for these kids. We have a lot of talented kids that one day could be up there with people like him.”


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