Home New York Report Ulysses Owens Jr. and Generation Y release A New Beat!

Ulysses Owens Jr. and Generation Y release A New Beat!

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Cellar Music Group is excited to announce the release of “A New Beat,” the latest album by the internationally renowned drummer and bandleader Ulysses Owens Jr. and his talented group of up-and-coming musicians, Generation Y, on January 19, 2024.
Praised by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, DownBeat, and others for his impactful work as a bandleader, Owens Jr. is recognized as a vital force in the music industry. He has collaborated with legends such as Kurt Elling, Wynton Marsalis, and Christian McBride and has won a GRAMMY Award for his contributions. Owens Jr.’s rise from “young lion” to seasoned mentor has been swift. As a world-class musician, he has immensely impacted music education, evidenced by his professorship at The Juilliard School, now in its seventh year. With his experience as an educator and the profound legacy of mentorship enacted by great bandleaders Art Blakey and Betty Carter, Owens Jr. scouts the next generation of jazz movers and shakers in an ensemble called Generation Y. Four years after its formation, Owens Jr. took the group – in its multiple iterations – into the studio. The result is A New Beat – a unique musical juxtaposition that stands both as a tribute to his mentors’ legacies and traditions and an homage to the unbridled potential of the future.
Ulysses Owens Jr.’s Generation Y, and ultimately A New Beat, finds its genesis in a seemingly simple question the drummer’s manager, Myles Weinstein, asked him: “Ulysses, who makes you happy when you play? Who do you want to be on the bandstand with?” At this moment, Owens Jr. understood that of all the electricity and enthusiasm he had experienced onstage in his career, the spark that genuinely ignited his musical passion was working with younger musicians. He realized it was because young musicians were still evolving and growing, enabling him to grow continuously. With synapses freshly firing and excitement bubbling, Owens Jr. immediately thought of his very talented then-Juilliard students. As the rehearsals began and the band went on the road, Owens Jr. realized that what he had discovered was not simply a concept or even a passion but an opportunity for a lifelong endeavor to nurture upcoming generations of musicians and, in turn, to be inspired and vitalized. 
“It’s an initiative that will last for the rest of my career because there will always be youthful energy and talent that requires mentoring and guidance,” says Owens Jr. “It fits perfectly with my path and journey, as I too was introduced to the scene through mentors.” 
After several successful tours, Owens Jr. and Generation Y decided to record and chronicle their camaraderie, vigor, and musical explosiveness. “A New Beat” celebrates the band’s journey over their first four years. The album features rising talent and notable voices such as Erena Terakubo, Sarah Hanahan, Anthony Hervey, Benny Benack III, Luther Allison, Tyler Bullock, Philip Norris, Ryoma Takanega, and Milton Suggs.
The album’s title, A New Beat, is a phrase that sums up Owens Jr.’s multifaceted growth throughout all aspects of his life as he entered a new era as an educator, musician, and even philanthropist. Owens Jr. has entered his seventh year of teaching as Small Ensemble Director at the Juilliard School and his 16th year as Artistic Director of the Don’t Miss A Beat non-profit camp; he founded and runs his own Jazz Summer Camp and – most proudly – is now a father to his two-year-old son. Owens Jr. summarizes it outright: “I am not a kid anymore, and so much of what I give my attention to is now for the benefit of others. That’s a new reality for me, and I enjoy it, and it’s something that has changed how I approach everything.” For Owens Jr., this changed approach has permeated his world, from how he lives to how he performs. “It’s a new time and season, which allows me to have a new sound and A New Beat.
Musically, this album was substantially influenced by the passing of Owens Jr.’s primary mentor, Mulgrew Miller, and one of his great inspirations, Roy Hargrove. Owens Jr. first met Hargrove while touring with Christian McBride, and the conviction, soul, and emotion that permeated Hargrove and his band’s playing left a lasting mark on Owens Jr. “I feel that since Hargrove left us, there was a void on the scene,” Owens Jr. says. “I hope for Generation Y to fill that musical void of being a quintet swinging, playing in the Blues and Soul tradition of the music and honoring our elders.” Regarding Mulgrew Miller, picking up the mantle of training and providing opportunities for the next generation is Owens Jr.’s chosen way to honor the piano giant. “Mulgrew constantly mentored the next generation, so there is an underlying commitment to every member in this band of mentoring and guiding them beyond the music, album, and touring.”
The album opens with “Sticks,” a Cannonball Adderley/Nat Adderley composition that comes out the gates, striking audiences with a powerful statement. Unbeknownst to many, the Adderley Brothers were native Floridians, and Owens Jr, who had settled there, wanted to highlight the unique contributions of Floridians to jazz. When originally recorded, this piece featured Sam Jones, another Floridian jazz musician, so Owens Jr. jumped upon the opportunity to swing hard and pay homage simultaneously. A New Beat continues with “Better Days,” a composition by Generation Y band member and trumpeter Anthony Hervey. While producing Hervey’s critically acclaimed debut, Words From My Horn (Outside in Music, 2023), Owens Jr. fell in love with the composition and added it to the Generation Y repertoire. Owens Jr. continues with his bandmates’ music with “London Towne,” an original composition by Benny Benack III. Owens Jr. jests that he “will not stop until we make it a standard,” having recorded different song arrangements with his New Century Jazz Quintet, Big Band, and now Generation Y. 
“Until I See You” is a song by pianist Luther Allison that showcases his and Owens Jr.’s shared love of harmony and Black American Church music. The song has a spiritual quality and is a fan favorite during concerts. Owens Jr. pays homage to Roy Hargrove by including his tune “Soulful.” “Heart Full of Rhythm” has a special place in Owens Jr.’s heart as he discovered the song during his tenure as the Armstrong Now! Artist in Residence. The song, co-written by Horace Gerlach and Louis Armstrong in the 30s and 40s, deeply moved Owens Jr. He invited jazz musician Milton Suggs to lend his soulful voice to his rendition.
The album progresses with “Bird Lives,” a composition by Jackie McLean. Saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, who counts McLean as a significant influence, chose this track, which showcases the band’s ability to reign within the bebop idiom as they hold their ground at break-neck tempos. The penultimate track is “Helen’s Song,” a George Cables song that Owens Jr. was first introduced to while playing in Steve Wilson’s band. Owens Jr. says, “George’s tunes spoke to me because they feel like R&B tunes, with beautiful chord changes and melodies, and the structure of the tunes fit the sound of this band.” “Helen’s Song” was composed by Cables for his wife and emphasizes a sentimentality that Owens Jr. found irresistible. Finally, “Chicken An’ Dumplings” concludes the album. This piece, composed initially by pianist Ray Bryant, was a staple part of the Art Blakey songbook and has been a staple part of Owens Jr.’s repertoire since the days of his New Century Jazz Quintet. This feel-good blues with a twisting bridge marked the perfect way to conclude the album. Owens Jr. says, “It reminds me of home and communicates the overall soulfulness I try to bring to the world through my band and music.”
Owens Jr. showcases his exceptional drumming and arranging skills while highlighting his poignant vision and leadership through his latest musical masterpiece, With A New Beat. By harnessing the rising generation’s youthful creativity and unbridled potential, Owens Jr. has created an artistic statement that sparkles with brilliance and the legacy he is building for the future.
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