Q&A: Jazz musician Ephraim Owens talks genre, growing up, life as musician

Grace Barnes

Dallas-born Ephraim Owens is a blues, jazz and gospel trumpeter who performs in Austin and around the world. He has also recorded with artists such as Sheryl Crow and Mumford & Sons.

Owens enrolled at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual & Performing Arts in Dallas, and he later received a scholarship to study jazz and music education at Texas State University. There he continued to pursue music in and outside of the classroom. He then moved to Austin, which has become a second home to the musician.

While jazz is not typically a college student’s genre of choice, bringing smaller artists from underrepresented genres to campus can broaden students’ musical palates.

Owens performed at the Blanton Museum of Art on Oct. 17 and was joined by a local pianist and bassist for a special free performance.

The Daily Texan: Although you are known as a blues, gospel and jazz musician, you have said that jazz is your preferred musical medium. Why?

Ephraim Owens: Jazz covers all the bases of music, in my personal opinion. (Jazz is) freedom of structure — there are melodies that build the song, but there’s room to play around and make changes. There’s free reign of thought and more conflict than in any other kind of music. That’s why I choose jazz. There are certain cultures of jazz, like Latin jazz has certain nuances to pay attention to, but there’s still freedom of expression. It’s also the communication with other musicians. It’s really nice when we find our groove and our direction. I love the collaboration of this music. It’s very rewarding.

DT: What was it like attending Booker T. Washington High School?

EO: I was already interested in jazz when I got there, but when I heard Roy Hargrove, that was it. That was when I really figured out what I wanted to do. I had my dad take me to school early every day to check out the jam sessions and see what other musicians were doing. We were all a big family — the arts, theater and choir. We were all inspired by what we wanted to do. We had to learn all this music on top of our classwork, which was hard but fully inspiring.

DT: Which artists or musicians inspire you?

EO: All of them. My style of playing is (inspired by) Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard. My writing is inspired by Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. More personally, my mom and my dad (inspire me). They were wary of me being a musician, but they always encouraged me to stick with it. My dad was actually the one that got me to where I am because he forced me to audition for art schools and took me concerts and contests.

DT: What do you love most about being a professional musician?

EO: Doing what I love to do, being accepted and received, being heard and felt, being able to give a gift. It would be really boring to just sit in my room practicing with nobody there to hear it. The people that have followed me since high school, who have seen my growth, for them to see how far I’ve come — it’s irreplaceable.