Ulysses Owens Jr.Percussion
About This Performance
A performance reunion of sorts bringing together opera star J’Nai Bridges and Grammy®-winning jazz trailblazer Ulysses Owens Jr., SF Performances’ new artist-in-residence. Bridges and Owens were students together before their paths diverged, each becoming luminaries in their respective genres. “Her voice is a rich blanket of plush sound” (Opera News). “Clear, purposeful communication has anchored Ulysses Owens Jr.’s artistry since he was a kid playing drums in church” (Downbeat).
Notes of Hope
DEBUSSY: Chansons de Bilitis
RAVEL: Chansons Madécasses
DUPARC: L’invitation au voyage
SATIE: Je te veux
POULENC: Les chemins de l’amour
DUKE ELLINGTON: T.G.T.T., Heaven, In A Sentimental Mood, Praise God and Dance
Traditional spirituals and original works to be announced
Edmon and Mary Jennings, Sponsors
American mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, known for her “rich, dark, exciting sound” (Opera News) is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after talents of her generation. She has been hailed as a “plush-voiced mezzo-soprano” (The New York Times), with a “calmly commanding stage presence” (The New Yorker), and heralded as “a rising star” (Los Angeles Times), gracing the world’s top opera and concert stages.
Ms. Bridges’ 2021-2022 season is highlighted by her participation in numerous world premiere engagements, and as a guest artist at The Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary Season. The first Kennedy Center performance is with the all Black and Latinx Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, followed by Written in Stone, a Washington National Opera program of new music including the world premiere of a piece written for her by Carlos Simon. Ms. Bridges’ time in Washington D.C. continues as a soloist with The National Philharmonic in the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s A Knee on the Neck, and Mozart’s Requiem. She continues her collaboration with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, giving a recital as part of their Power to the People! festival. She also appears with Amarillo Symphony as a guest artist in a world premiere piece by Chris Rogerson entitled Sacred Earth, she’ll sing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for Houston Symphony’s season finale performance, and will give a solo recital at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ. Operatic engagements include the title role in Carmen with Palm Beach Opera, and Jocasta in Oedipus Rex with the San Francisco Symphony.
In the midst of the worldwide pandemic, she emerged as a leading figure in classical music’s shift toward conversations of inclusion and racial justice in the performing arts. Bridges led a highly successful panel on race and inequality in opera with the Los Angeles Opera that drew international acclaim for being a “conversation of striking scope and candor” (New York Times). In early 2021, Ms. Bridges was featured in the Converse shoe brand’s All Stars Campaign for its Breaking Down Barriers collection. Bridges also performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel for two episodes of the digital SOUND/STAGE series, and as part of the Global Citizen movement’s Global Goal campaign, a program which also included Coldplay, Shakira, Usher, and more.
The pandemic also forced the cancellation of Ms. Bridges’ numerous debuts during the 2020–21 season, including the title role of Carmen at The Metropolitan Opera and Canadian Opera Company. Bridges’ 2019–20 season included her highly-acclaimed debut at The Metropolitan Opera as Nefertiti in a sold-out run of Philip Glass’ opera Akhnaten, as well as a house and role debut with Washington National Opera as Dalila in Samson et Dalila.
Other recent highlights include the 2021 Grammy® Award-winning recording of Richard Danielpour’s oratorio The Passion of Yeshua with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, her sold-out Carnegie Hall Recital debut, her role debut of Kasturbai in Satyagraha at LA Opera, and her debuts at Dutch National Opera and the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. Ms. Bridges also created the role of Josefa Segovia in the world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West at San Francisco Opera, and performed in the world premiere of Bel Canto at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, an opera by Jimmy Lopez based on the novel by Ann Patchett.
Ms. Bridges is a recipient of the prestigious 2018 Sphinx Medal of Excellence Award, a 2016 Richard Tucker Career Grant, first prize winner at the 2016 Francisco Viñas International Competition, first prize winner at the 2015 Gerda Lissner Competition, a recipient of the 2013 Sullivan Foundation Award, a 2012 Marian Anderson award winner, the recipient of the 2011 Sara Tucker Study Grant, the recipient of the 2009 Richard F. Gold Grant from The Shoshana Foundation, and the winner of the 2008 Leontyne Price Foundation Competition. She completed a three-year residency with the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, represented the United States at the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and was a Young Artist at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.
A native of Tacoma, Washington, she earned her Master of Music degree from Curtis Institute of Music, and her Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music.
Heralded as a “powerhouse of a showman” (Glide Magazine), a “legitimate jazz triple threat” (Critical Jazz), and a drummer who “take[s] a back seat to no one” (New York Times), performer, producer and educator Ulysses Owens Jr. goes the limit in the jazz world and beyond.
One of the most sought-after drummers of his generation, Owens sets the mark. From Grammy® Award-winning performances with Christian McBride’s acclaimed Trio and Big Band to world tours with Kurt Elling and Joey Alexander, Owens’s artistic command of percussion has earned him positions in some of the most successful jazz ensembles of the 21st century. Owens’s reverence for tradition distinctly manifests in his straight-away playing style, but it is the versatility of his talent—his unique ability to manipulate texture and create penetrating musical shapes—that attracts the attention of jazz’s heavy hitters. His performance catalog includes collaborations with Nicholas Payton, Wynton Marsalis, Monty Alexander, Dianne Schurr, Renee Fleming, and Mulgrew Miller, just to name a few.
A burgeoning force in the industry, Owens has been named a Rising Star by DownBeat’s Critics Poll for five years straight. He is a recipient of the 2013 ASCAP Plus Award, a Gold Medal winner of the 2014 Global Music Awards, a 2015 Jazz at Lincoln Center Swing! Awards Honoree, and 2019 “3rd Runner-Up,” in Classic Jazz Category in the Modern Drummer Magazine Readers’ Poll. Still, most notable of Owens’s accomplishments are his performances on the 2010 Grammy® award-winning Kurt Elling live album, Dedicated to You, and the 2012 Grammy® award-winning Christian McBride Big Band album, The Good Feeling. His work with Joey Alexander, the Christian McBride Trio, and Gregory Porter have also received recognition by the Recording Academy, garnering Grammy® nominations for the albums My Favorite Things, Countdown, Out Here, Live at the Village Vanguard, and Nat King Cole & Me.
At the heart of Owens’s work is a passion for creation and the desire to reach new audiences. On and off stage, music emanates from every inch of his being, and no performance goes unmarked by Owens’s signature smile. Owens is a gifted bandleader, claiming five successful albums of his own (It’s Time for U, Unanimous, Onward and Upward, Falling Forward, Songs of Freedom.) and four self-produced albums with the New Century Jazz Quintet (Time is Now, In Case You Missed Us, Arise, and Soul Conversion), a skillful group he co-leads with pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi in Japan. Owens’s band-first philosophy ensures that all conversations with an audience remain fluid and focused, another stamp of his seasoned expertise and professional sophistication.
Amid touring, Owens is regularly involved in special projects. In 2015, he served as Artist-in-Residence at the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy where he presented Ulysses in 3. This multi-disciplinary performance piece showcased the literary masterpiece Ulysses by James Joyce, the work of celebrated choreographer Ulysses Dove and Owens’s own original compositions, weaved together through the mediums of music, dance, spoken word and visual art. That same year, Owens was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art to compose a work for the Museum’s Summer Garden Series. The final result was a seven-movement suite entitled Stages of Us, reflecting on the African American experience.
A strong believer in community engagement, Owens has ardently supported cultural institutions. From 2012 to 2015, Owens served as the Jazz Vesper Series Artistic Director at the world-renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church. He was also appointed Artistic Music Curator for the legendary Minton’s Playhouse, at the request of chef and restaurateur Alexander Smalls, producing over 85 shows for the jazz club during its Fall 2015 season.
As an educator, Owens has delved into the realm of being the co-creator of his online jazz drum video course, Finding Your Beat, distributed and produced by Open Studio Network, and has amassed hundreds of subscribers globally that desire to learn more about his performance and teaching philosophy. He also recently released his first drum instructional book.
Owens’ most recent album, Songs of Freedom, features the music of Abbey Lincoln, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone. This album was selected by JAZZIZ Magazine of one of 10 Jazz albums to listen to in March 2019. The album features bassist Rene Marie, Alicia Olatuja, and Theo Bleckmann as the featured vocalists, and David Rosenthal, Allyn Johnson, and Reuben Rogers in the band.