Flashlight: Chuck Owen, Tampa’s Own Multiple Grammy Nominee
It’s a long arduous journey for artists to gain acclaim outside of the musical meccas of Los Angeles and Nashville, but Tampa’s own Chuck Owen is yet again gaining international recognition by garnering four Grammy nominations at the 60th annual Grammy Award show tonight.
This may be Owen’s year to strike gold. He already has a few Grammy nominations under his belt, with one nomination in 2009 and two nominations in 2014. This jazzman and his jazz band, the Jazz Surge, may finally take home the golden gramophone.
What distinguishes Owen from his peers, I wondered. What makes the Chuck Owen experience particularly remarkable? He provided some insight:
“I’m not sure that there’s ‘one trait’ that distinguishes my work. A jazz composer is distinguished from other composers and songwriters by virtue of the drive to not only score explicitly ideas for multiple musicians (a la a classical composer) but also to incorporate opportunities for the musicians performing (all skilled improvisers) to create and inject their sensibilities. It’s what I love most about being a jazz composer and while other jazz composers are dealing with this as well, I’m guessing how I approach it might be slightly different.”
That slight difference is making all the difference as manifested in the Jazz Surge. Their album “Whispers on the Wind” is nominated for four Grammy Awards. One is for Best Improvised Jazz Solo (violinist Sara Caswell), and the other six are for Best Instrumental Composition (“Warped Cowboy” by Owen), Best Arrangement (Owen), Instrumental or A Cappella (“All Hat, No Saddle” by Owen); and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album (Owen).
When I asked him about how he came to the land of jazz, a field I as a poet find mysterious and exotic, he said:
“There have been a couple of turning points in my career although not necessarily breakthroughs like you or others might mean. The first was just in making the decision to become a music major at 19 when I was already pursuing a biology/pre-med degree. I was idealistic; but realistic to know I was not choosing the easiest – or likely most lucrative – career path. The attraction of being involved with music for the rest of my life was just too strong however and won out – much to my parents chagrin (although they supported my decision completely once made).
“I also made two later decisions to stop playing instruments. First the trombone – my undergraduate major – then the piano 20 years later. In each case, the rationale was that I couldn’t serve two masters. I simply needed to devote my energies more to composing/arranging. Both were painful as I really enjoyed performing (I’m constantly asked today to play something on piano and have to decline); but the decisions proved not only the right ones but, also, were instrumental in opening the doors to the success I’ve enjoyed as a composer.”
Beyond his musical composition, Owen has done his fair share of work for the community, having established and nurtured USF’s renown jazz program and serving students as Distinguished Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of South Florida since 1981.
I, for one, will begin exploring the world of jazz more thoroughly now that my interest is piqued. The next album I buy will be “Whispers on the Wind.” Support for local Tampa Bay area artists is critical to keeping our community vibrant and helps provide artists the support system and recognition they need and deserve. Cross your fingers for our hometown hero tonight!