For New York jazz musicians, there are two parts to the puzzle. The first is playing well enough to distinguish yourself from the seemingly endless pool of talent that centers around Manhattan. The second is finding consistent work that pays well enough to support a life in the big city. Drummer Owen Howard, a native of Edmonton, Canada who moved to the Big Apple eight years ago, has put the pieces together and just released his second CD, Pentagon, on the Koch Jazz label.
A resident of Brooklyn, Howard reports that he survives “by picking up enough gigs to somehow scrape by.” After attending the prestigious Banff Summer Jazz Workshop, he studied at the New School Jazz and Contemporary Music program with Adam Nussbaum, Billy Hart and Kenny Werner. Since graduating in 1990, he’s worked with the likes of Tom Harrell, John Abercrombie and Eddie Henderson as well as his own groups. He’s worked in collective bands with unique instrumentation exploring East European, African and Javanese music, as well as odd meters.
In addition to his persuasive percussion, what distinguishes Howard is his writing. The impetus for 1995’s Sojourn was a stack of his compositions waiting to be played. Rather than wait to be discovered, he seized the moment and financed the project himself, later interesting Donald Elfman at Koch in releasing it.
Howard started playing “when I was 15. My brother took me to hear Art Blakey.” At Dave Holland’s program at Banff’s Summer Jazz Workshop, Howard felt the call of Manhattan. The bassist and his group had “a tremendous attitude and vibe. I realized it was about New York.”
Now, Howard would “like to write adventurous music in several different groups including a band where I can play more free jazz, explore different possibilities and play somewhere in between.”