African American Studies
The second session begins with Owens discussing the teachers that had the biggest effects on him at Junior High School 40. One of those teachers was the head of the music department. He fondly remembers how he learned to play the trumpet with the book Easy Steps to the Band. This gentleman was his teacher for one year and was replaced by a woman who taught the students jazz. She also helped him prepare for the entrance exam for theHigh School ofMusic and Art, which he was accepted into.
When he was in JHS 40 he played at a few local venues and played with other kids his age, like in the auditorium of PS 99. Towards the end of middle school, he was taken to a few professional concerts and allowed to sit in with the performers. One time, his father took him to see Miles Davis and he actually got to play for Miles Davis and his band. He and miles became good friends, and later on Miles let Owens sit in with him in performances.
He talks about the many Jazz musicians who lived in theBronxand the possible reasons for such a vital jazz culture. He also talks about the Jazz clubs he would sit outside of and listen to the musicians inside.
He knew he wanted to become a professional musician when he made the choice to go to a performing arts high school as opposed to an academic high school. His mother was not happy about his career goal. One reason for this could be that 2 of her nephews, who were professional musicians, got addicted to drugs. By the late 40’s a visible drug problem started to emerge in Morrisania and in the music world. She simply did not want her son to get involved with drugs and have a more stable lifestyle.
After high school, he wanted to go to the Julliard School of Music. He felt this was an attainable goal because of his involvement with the Newport Youth Band. This group was taught by prominent professional musicians and was debuting new pieces. They were essentially professionals in training. In fact, he goes on to list the various members of the group and their current professions, many of which hold prominent positions in the music world. However, a few of the members did develop drug problems and some even overdosed. The band broke up at the end of his junior year. His entire senior year was devoted to studying and improving his academics. Unfortunately, Julliard was too expensive and so was Manhattan School of Music.
After he graduated high school he would practice 6-8 hours a day and would go and listen to musicians at night. However, in October his mother got him a job at the hospital she worked at. He would do his clerical work as fast as he could and he would practice while he was supposed to be working. He quit the job after 2 months and began playing gigs for money. He was saving all of his money in the hopes of one day going to Julliard School of Music. He then began traveling around playing gigs all over the country, fromNew York, to the South, toCalifornia. He didn’t move out of his parents’ house officially until he was about 40.
In the early 50’s his parents moved out of Morrisania and into a house on 164th and Woodcrest Avenue.
He began writing music later in his life for the Metropolitan Orchestra and got involved with the Rhythm Associating in 1967. He found teaching very rewarding. Through teaching, he reflected on his own experience of learning how to play in theBronxand on all of the people that helped him. In the 60’s he also began teaching at Old Westbury and taught musicians the business side of the music industry.
Owens, Jimmy Interview 1. February 18, 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Owens, Jimmy Interview 2.mp3 (115409 kB)