Ulysses Owens, JR.
- Video by Happy Monday | Photography by George Elder
"Geoffrey Holder once said, If your clothes don't fit you well, then you don't know the architecture of your body, and if you don't know that, then you don't know yourself."
If you want to sit down for a talk with Ulysses Owens, Jr., you have to plan ahead - the man is almost never in the same place two days in a row. Between touring, teaching, recording, and supporting his non-profit group to help inner-city kids get a better start in life through music and arts education, he is the definition of a man on the move.
On the road over 250 days a year working both as a band leader and supporter of some of the biggest names in jazz, Ulysses sees more of the world in a month than most of us do in years. As a child, he was passionate about the drums, but felt the calling to choose music as his profession on his first trip to New York when he was 16. Describing the moment, he says, "I could feel the pulse of the city and all the amazing artists, and I wanted to be part of that energy."
After attending the Juilliard School's inaugural Jazz Program under the direction of Wynton Marsalis and Victor Goines, Ulysses briefly returned to his hometown of Jacksonville, FL, where he set up Don't Miss A Beat, the non-profit organization that is still close to his heart.
In the years since, he has become one of the most sought after drummers of his generation, from Grammy award-winning performances with Christian McBride, to world tours with Kurt Elling and Joey Alexander. Having more than 30 production credits to his name, he also teaches students at several prestigious programs, and serves as a musical director.
Because Ulysses is constantly traveling, he has come to rely on EFM for clothes that feel great, require minimal space in his luggage, and don't need a lot of ironing or maintenance. On stage, he makes use of the design details, fabrication, and stretch knit tapes in EFM blazers, for extra mobility. But his connection to the EFM lifestyle doesn't end there. Ulysses keeps a healthy diet, exercises regularly, and has a passion for life and the world around him.
"I want to have a life that is a help to others. I am blessed to travel around the world as an artist sharing my music, and I am driven by other interests like art, reading, and connecting with brilliance."
When asked where he sees himself in five years, he summed it up perfectly: "I see myself living my best life, loving and continuing to be involved with powerful projects that are shifting society and culture. Thriving as a Creative Entrepreneur, and growing as an Educator, Writer, and Musician. Ultimately, seeking to be a great human being, internally and externally."
New York City, Washington Heights. I love the people, and it's a real community full of beautiful people of Hispanic descent, and artists.
A day on the road starts with reading, a run, answering e-mails, and since I'm probably playing a show that night, I try to see part of whatever city I am in, and hang out with friends. If I am lucky, check out a museum.
A day at home starts with tea. Then I move around my apartment and listen to music, check in with my family and business partners. Head to the store for groceries because I love to cook, then the wine store for a pairing. I always make time for writing.
One thing that is hard to get used to is the intense travel schedule. It can be challenging, but I am addicted to the variety, and I like adapting to new places. Sometimes I wake up and I don't know where I am, or I get confused. But I get to see so many unique things, I wish everyone had the same opportunity. I am adamant about keeping in touch with my family and friends, to keep me sane and to keep focus.
Ha! If it's an off day, I try not to do anything that will take me below 125th St! When I am working in the city I need to be flexible between lots of neighborhoods so I take the subway and cabs sometimes, but mostly I prefer walking.
I think my style is classic, clean, euro, NYC chic. I love wearing black and dark colors which comes with your NYC identification card. You aren't a New Yorker if you don't have tons of black in the closet!
I love hoodies... I feel like you can put on a hoodie and become invisible. I wish I could wear hoodies, sweatpants and my comfy sneakers everywhere. That's one of the reasons I love EFM, I can feel comfortable and look presentable at the same time. I can dress up and still move the way I need to, or just relax on a long flight. I am a drummer, so I need things to breathe with me as I breathe.