Teaching children to follow the music

Former JU professor gives back to Jacksonville


Courtesy of Ulysses Owens, Jr.

Former JU professor Ulysses Owens, Jr. plays the drums.

Student peers and faculty often wonder what happens to students after they have graduated from Jacksonville University. Most of the time they get jobs, get married and have a family. They begin their life and pursue their desires.

One less prevalent thought is that of what professors do after they leave JU.

Just like students, professors often leave JU to start a new adventure and follow their dreams. One former JU music professor in particular, Ulysses Owens Jr., is doing
just that.

“I chose [to teach at] JU because I have a great relationship with the music faculty there, including percussion professor Tony Steve and Director of Jazz Studies, Jon Ricci,” he said.

Owens taught Jazz Drumset, Jazz Big Band and Small Ensembles from August 2006 to the summer of 2007.

Owens began playing music in church at the age of two and began taking classical piano and percussion lessons around the age of 8 until the age of 14.

His journey into jazz began after he got accepted into Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, where he got involved in Jazz Band. After graduating DA, he moved to New York to be a part of the inaugural Jazz Studies Program at The Julliard School in 2001.

Throughout his career, he has worked with Grammy winning jazz artists including Christian McBride, Dianna Schuur, Monty Alexander, Wynton Marsalis, Dianne Reeves and many others.
“I am currently touring with Christian McBride and his trio and Big Band, Dianne Schuur, Monty Alexander and Wynton Marsalis,” he said.

In the past years Owens has also produced successful albums through his production company, U.O.J. Productions.

In 2008, he and his family created a new non-profit organization in Jacksonville called “Don’t Miss a Beat.” The organization aims to empower children to seek out their dreams and a better life by incorporating music and art with a core focus on academic achievement and civic engagement. Owens is the Artistic Director.

“I am always inspired by passion and a void existing in an area,” he said. “With Don’t Miss A Beat, my family and I have always had a great relationship, and I am honored to be a part of such a gifted family full of ability. We felt it was time to formalize our organizational skills into a full-fledged organization.”

DMAB offers four programs including the performing arts program, the academic engagement program, the civic engagement program and the parent and adult program.

The performing arts program is an eight-week summer program where students are involved with composers, choreographers and playwrights from renowned establishments such as Broadway and the Julliard School.

The academic engagement program engages students in the arts to assist with their academics all year long.

The civic engagement program allows students to participate in projects that benefit the community while mastering academic and performing arts skills.

The parent and adult program offers classes on computer software, resume preparation, reading, writing and math.

“We have always been passionate and active with education within the context of children, so advocacy within a community through the arts was the logical choice for us,” he said. “It’s also the place where we feel the most useful and being in service to people who need it most.”

With help from City Councilman Warren Jones in 2010, DMAB was selected by the City of Jacksonville and JaxParks to use the J.S. Johnson Community Center’s Youth Room as the new home for DMAB. The building is located in the area of Jacksonville known as Brooklyn, which is a lower income area of Jacksonville.

Owens feels that DMAB’s mission is stronger than ever due to art programs closing in schools, preventing youth from exploring their creative side, and the lack of teachers who truly care about the well-being of students.

“I feel my efforts with DMAB are important because the community, especially within the African American Diaspora, is facing many challenges, namely with our youth,” he said. ‘Don’t Miss A Beat’ fills in and helps the families and children to ‘Find Their Rhythm’ in life.”

Owens hopes to expand the community arts center so that it possesses a combination of arts and community environment. He also wants as many people as possible to know about DMAB.

“My goal for Don’t Miss A Beat is to continue to grow and be exposed more within the community nationally and internationally,” he said. “We don’t want to compete with anyone else, we want to unite with other organizations. The children benefit when there are more of us in existence.”

Owens believes that devotion and affection lies as the foundation of a non-profit.

“Those that want to start a non-profit organization have to first have an idea they are so passionate about that they can carry it alone for awhile,” he said. “If you’re doing it to garner a certain level of attention, that will evade you. You have to truly believe in the vision and your ability to execute it no matter what.”

Owens has faith in the JU community to help support his organization and offers some advice to students.

“I feel the JU community is a rich community of resource and knowledge, and when I was there, in so many ways, I felt it was the best kept secret to the world. So my advice to JU is to let more people know who you are, and in the midst of your educational pursuits, try to touch the outside world more. They could benefit from that.”