Some people forge special links with the past, recasting aspects of it in new and personal molds. Others reach forward for new modes of expression, new combinations of music and meanings. Julian Owens threw a lifeline on a string of music, showing others how to grasp it and navigate it beyond all obstacles.
Julian Owens brings us a moving and timely project, particularly at a time when it is needed. The music reaches out and grabs the listener with a grip of harmony and excitement. He brings a fresh spirit of praise and worship to the jazz world.
There is always the song. There is always the music. Julian Owens takes you to a place where you’ve always wanted to experience, where the lyrics surround you, empower you, enlighten you, enable you to be who you are, and know that it is always just beyond your reach. Here’s Life is an album that you should take along on your musical journey.
Jazzreview: Tell me about "Here’s L.I.F.E. 2020 AD." How did you get your start?
Julian Owens: Here’s L.I.F.E. is a partnership resulting from my life-long journey and spiritual revelation that music has the power to heal. When you think about it, music and various other forms of performing and visual art has a significant impact on our perspective about life. I’ve been in the medical field for all of my professional life. I wanted to connect the dots of my life and create something that would leave a lasting legacy well beyond my own life. I knew that making records would be one way to reach a lot of people and I also wanted to figure out a way to restore faith and hope to people who are not connected to all resources around us.
Music is a very powerful medium and most folks really are not aware of the subtle messages that music is depositing in the way we think, the way we move and what we believe. So, Here’s L.I.F.E. 2020 is an attempt to use music powerfully to redirect listener’s attention to positive themes related to culture, diversity, wellness, resources, faith in the living God, and love respect for ourselves and each other.
Jazzreview: What prompted Here’s L.I.F.E. 202 to establish a partnership or relationship?
Julian Owens: I would have to say that it was a lot of things culminating in my life that was going on in 1997 and 1998. I had a great job as an IT consultant in a large consulting firm. I was working in my field, but helping to make already profitable companies even more profitable. I traveled extensively throughout the U.S and even worked in the Middle East and Africa, but still didn’t feel particularly fulfilled.
Consulting was not a bad thing, but it was not the most fulfilling thing given my desire to connect with everyday people and make a difference. I was lacking purpose and passion and that’s what life is really all about.
I have come to learn that most of us derive our satisfaction in life from doing things that give us a sense of fulfillment, a sense of purpose. Here’s L.I.F.E. 2020 was born out of my desire to fulfill those needs.
I was working in Saudi Arabia on a work assignment in 1997. Many of the traditional entertainment outlets like movies, concerts, and plays are not commonly available due to the religious restrictions of Islam, so I had time to do a great deal of personal searching, and introspection. That resulted in me taking a real good look at my life and my aspirations. I began to question what was it that the Lord had called me to do with my life. I knew there had always been my love for music, but I wanted to make the best of the years I spent in health care. So, it was in the desert of Saudi Arabia, I began to assemble the scattered dots of my life to identify the things I enjoyed about life and living versus those things I was just doing out of habit, or trying to fulfill expectations that were not instinctive to me. I knew that whatever I did, I would have to acknowledge the fact that I was saved I knew that God had saved me and I felt like I had been saved to be a blessing to others.
Jazzreview: Your music is spiritually conscious with inspirational sounds mixed with a blend of jazz. How do you contribute to this? How do you combine spiritual music with jazz?
Julian Owens: It’s actually interesting because Here’s Life Vol. 1, is the debut CD on the label. When I returned from Saudi Arabia, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. I remember talking to a dear friend of mine, Angela Stribling, who suggested I enrolled in the Elliston Studio for Jazz Studies. Ronnie Wells became my vocal coach and there I began to understand jazz. What was interesting is that most of the chords felt very familiar. It took a little time to get the phrasing down since I had grown up singing gospel music in the church.
I think it was a blend of a lot of things that made jazz work for me. I had traveled in Europe and had lived in Africa and the Middle East. I took in music from each of these places and began to realize something universal about this thing called music.
Jazz seemed the right genre to express the inspiration I was feeling. It didn’t feel anything like the gospel music I sang and listened to when I was growing up. It didn’t feel like the sad, bluesy jazz that I thought of as traditional jazz, and it didn’t feel like it was R&B, Pop or Hip Hop either.
The chords and phasing definitely borrowed from each of these genres, but my singing had changed into a jazz style. I think this is because of my life experiences and my need to express serenity. It just seemed that jazz was the best way to capture what was inside of me. Dwight and I were committed to writing lyrics that were inspirational.
Jazzreview: If you look at the origination of jazz, it came from or derived from inspirational music.
Julian Owens: Exactly, it’s interesting that you know that. A lot of people think of jazz from its blues origin, but jazz initially were songs of inspiration music. It turned into blues in the 30’s when there were quite a few events going on for those who were singing it. Some of those events and circumstances would make anyone sing the blues.
Jazzreview: How did you get started? How old were you?
Julian Owens: I started in the church at the tender age of 5 years old. I sang solos in cherub choir at church. For many years I would sing solos and I received a lot of attention. Most folks who know me would never believe it, but I was really kind of shy. When you start out so young and you don’t really know yourself, let alone your capabilities, you’re just sort of doing what is natural. I was often asked to sing at times when I really didn’t want to because it was so much attention that singing brought to me. I was really quite uncomfortable with it all. It’s kind of funny. When I got a little, around eleven or so, I wanted to sing more. My mom allowed me to sing outside of the church. She allowed me to audition for the Birmingham Boys Choir, which led to my interest in drama and musical theater.
When I went to college the first year, I sang in the glee club at Morehouse. But, in the subsequent years, I withdrew from music and began to focus on pursuing a career in medicine.
Jazzreview: Do you think the mixing of Jazz and Gospel has its place today?
Julian Owens: Absolutely, I didn’t think there’s a better time in history for this music. People are really searching for words of inspiration, music that leaves you feeling uplifted. But, that may not be thought of as ‘Gospel music.’
Music is a powerful media. Much of the music in the early and mid-90’s addressed contemporary issues like somebody cheating in a relationship, or somebody done somebody wrong love songs. I saw how this music was leaving people feeling betrayed and even hostile. What was interesting is that I really liked some of the old and new R&B, hip-hop, and pop talent.
I began working on my debut recording back in 1998. I knew I wanted the music to be of the highest quality and lyrics would be spiritually based. It took me about 3 years to put it all together because I was also committed to being involved in every aspect of the project from writing, composing, playing, producing, and serving as the person on the label.
What we have is Here’s L.I.F.E. and I think it’s an ideal time for Gospel-inspired lyrics to marry Smooth Jazz. I pray that it takes off. I think we’re onto something.
Jazzreview: Who were your earliest influences?
Julian Owens: That’s interesting, I’m afraid that it’s not just one [person]. It’s a few. I have to start with Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire. I like what they were doing back in the seventies and eighties. They borrowed from all different musical genres and created a sound that has stood the test of time. Maurice is a self-proclaimed, jazz musician who used to play for Ramsey Lewis.
Of course there’s Stevie Wonder, Robert Flack, Donny Hathaway who all could play and sing with such skill and passion. From the traditional gospel world, I really enjoy the music of Take Six and Richard Smallwood because they are such fine musicians who know the intricacies of music theory and compositions. I also like George Duke and Oletta Adams.
I have one more that you’ll be surprised by. It’s the music of George Michael. That’s right, George Michael, formerly of Wham. Many people think of George only in the pop/dance music scene, but George Michael has an extraordinary repertoire of jazz as well. He’s an extremely gifted composer, writer and arranger.
Jazzreview: You do have a lot of influences. I can hear all of them through your music.
Julian Owens: Thank you. That’s a good thing. Hopefully you will hear something new too. That is my own style of inspirational jazz. I hope is a distinct sound.
Jazzreview: In light of the disasters that have occurred in the past 6 months, how do you think the combined music of Jazz and Gospel play a part today in trying to smooth over what has happened to our country? How do you think those sounds effect the mood of people today?
Julian Owens: It’s no coincidence that the record was completed the weekend before Sept. 11. Although I started the project a couple of years ago, I recorded the final overdubs for Here’s Life on Saturday, September 8th. I was in the final stages of mixing, mastering, and the manufacturing of this project during this tragic time. I was really touched given all the challenges I had gone through over the last 3 years. I knew that the Lord had actually timed the release of the project right at the time when people were in the need of it the most.
Jazzreview: I enjoyed the music and lyrics of "Surround Me. " It was very emotional and inspirational. Did you write it yourself?
Julian Owens: Yes, I composed the music and my friend Dwight Stewart and I did the lyrics. Dwight titled the track. I do want to acknowledge him for that. He is a poet and Dwight’s brother and I are good friends. He kept telling me about his younger brother, who I should meet and who is an excellent lyricist living in Florida. I went on a business trip to Florida and we hit it off immediately. I shared the concept of Here’s L.I.F.E. and we began to share ideas.
Dwight had written a poem and I did some arranging. Together we came up with the lyrics of Surround Me. This was one of the easiest songs to write for the entire album. When the lyrics were finished, the melody and music just came together in an amazing way. I use to let a friend of mine sing the melody because I would just love to hear it. It’s an amazing song!
Jazzreview: You mentioned purpose and passion. Have you fulfilled your purpose and passion? Where do you see yourself going in the next five years?
Julian Owens: I would have to say we are doing just that on a daily basis. Yes, we’re fulfilling our purpose and passion. I often say ‘we’ because I credit Dwight for helping me achieve and expand my vision.
There are three real tenets to Here’s L.I.F.E. One is to promote self-expression. Two is to promote spiritual renewal. Three is to celebrate diversity and world culture. Those are the three goals, if you will, for Here’s L.I.F.E. I’m just humble that those goals are being achieved.
In every opportunity that we have to share this project, someone is talking about how it caused him or her to draw closer to the Lord or it stimulated their interest in knowing more about the heavenly romance we are talking about. People from all different cultural backgrounds are embracing this project.
Jazzreview: Are you from a musical family?
Julian Owens: No, I’m not, but I have been raised in the church and have been active in music ministry for a long time. As a matter of fact, I returned to Sardis, my home church, to sing in the Easter Sunday morning service. This is the church where I was born and I’m still an offsite member. The pastor is the same pastor who has been there since I was 6-years old. He has been like a father to me and very intricately involved in my spiritual growth. It’s in Birmingham, Alabama and I’m looking forward to it.
You see, I grew up in the post-segregation era in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham was the seat of rampant segregation and latent racial tension. Growing up in the days of post-segregation has had an impact on my desire to embrace cultural diversity. My life is richer and I just thank God that I’ve been given this chance to pursue my dreams and share it with others.
"Our mission is to: inspire self expression, provoke spiritual renewal, and celebrate diversity in culture."
- Here’s L.I.F.E 2020 AD.