Critically acclaimed drummer, bandleader Ulysses Owens Jr. introduces Generation Y – a starry ensemble of rising jazz stars – with A New Beat, due out January 19, 2024, via Cellar Music Group
Cellar Music Group is thrilled to announce the January 19, 2024 release of A New Beat, a new album by internationally lauded drummer and bandleader Ulysses Owens Jr. and his exciting outfit of promising rising talent, Generation Y.
Praised by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, DownBeat and more for his impactful work as a bandleader and recognized as a vital force with legends such as Kurt Elling, Wynton Marsalis and Christian McBride, GRAMMY-Award winning Owens Jr.’s rise from “young lion” to seasoned mentor has been undeniably swift. As his career as a world-class musician has blossomed mightily, so has his impact in music education, marked by a professorship at The Juilliard School, now in its seventh year. Informed by his experience as an educator, and by 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 he calls Generation Y. Four years after its formation, Owens Jr. took the group – in its multiple iterations – into the studio. The end result is A New Beat – a unique musical juxtaposition that stands both as a tribute to the legacies and traditions of his mentors, 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?” In this moment, Owens Jr. understood that of all the electricity and fervor he had experienced onstage in his career, the spark that truly ignited his musical passion was working with younger musicians. He realized that it was because young musicians are still evolving and growing, and that it enables him to continuously grow, too. 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 himself.
“It’s an initiative that will last for the rest of my career, because there will always be some youthful energy and talent that needs mentoring and guidance,” Owens Jr. says. “It just fit with my path and journey, because that’s how I was introduced to the scene, through mentors.” After several successful tours, Owens Jr. and Generation Y deemed it time to record and chronicle their camaraderie, vigor, and musical explosiveness. A New Beat thus stands as a celebration of the band’s journey over their first four years. The rising talent and notable voices featured on A New Beat include 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 has 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 really enjoy it, and it’s something that has changed how I approach everything.” For Owens Jr., this changed approach has permeated through his world, from how he lives to how he performs. “It’s a new time, and a new 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. “My hope is for Generation Y to fill that musical void of being a quintet that’s 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 has himself settled there, wanted to highlight the unique contributions of Floridians to jazz. This piece, when originally recorded, featured Sam Jones, another Floridian jazz musician, and 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 the music of his bandmates 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 arrangements of the song with his New Century Jazz Quintet, his Big Band, and now Generation Y.
“Until I See You”, by pianist Luther Allison, emphasizes his and Owens Jr.’s shared love of harmony and Black American Church music. The composition leans into the spiritual and has proven to be a favorite in concert. Owens Jr. continues his tribute to Roy Hargrove by including his tune “Soulful”. The next track, “Heart Full of Rhythm”, holds a special place in Owens Jr.’s own heart, as this song was revealed to him during his role as the Armstrong Now! Artist in Residence. “This song which, was co-written by Horace Gerlach and Louis Armstrong, really struck me deeply and it was a hit during its time of release in the 30s and 40s,” he reflects. He invited another jazz-dad, Milton Suggs, to share his soulful voice on his rendition.
The album progresses with the Jackie McLean composition, “Bird Lives.” Chosen by saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, who counts McLean as a major influence, this track 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 during his time playing in Steve Wilson’s band. “George’s tunes really 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,” Owens Jr. says. “Helen’s Song” was composed by Cables for his wife, and emphasizes a sentimentality that Owens Jr. found irresistible. A New Beat concludes with “Chicken An’ Dumplings.” Originally composed by pianist Ray Bryant, this piece 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. A feel-good blues with a twisting bridge, this piece marked the perfect way to conclude the album. “It reminds me of home, and it communicates the overall soulfulness I try to bring to the world through my band and music,” Owens Jr. says.
With A New Beat, Owens Jr. displays not only his long-beloved formidable drumming and arranging, but he allows his poignant vision and leadership to take the spotlight. By organizing and riding the waves of youthful creativity and the unbridled ability of the rising generation to grow, Owens jr. has created an artistic statement that shimmers with brilliance – both musically and with the seeds of the legacy that he is planting for the future.
- Sticks (7:36) J. Adderley
- Better Days (7:15) A. Hervey
- London Towne (7:06) B. Benack III
- Until I See You Again (6:03) L. Allison
- Soulful (8:13) R. Hargrove
- Heart Full of Rhythm (5:19) L. Armstrong & H. Gerlach
- Bird Lives (live) (8:32) J. McLean
- Helen’s Song (5:11) G. Cables
- Chicken An’ Dumpling (5:41) R. Bryant (Digital Only Bonus Track)