Grammy-nominated professor to conduct for Denmark orchestra

After his night at the Grammys in January, USF professor of jazz studies Charles “Chuck” Owen is back with a project he says will top his nominations because it’s one he has never tackled.

Soon after the award show, Owen was contacted by email by Lars Møller, artistic director of the Aarhus Jazz Orchestra, to be a part of a performance in February 2015.

“I’ve been commissioned by an orchestra in Denmark…,” Owen said. “It’s going to be about half of new music that I’ve written specifically for this project. Some of the tunes from ‘Comet’s Tail‘ they’re going to take…, and I’m going to go over in February and conduct, so we’ll rehearse for about a week and then we’ll do four or five performances of this music. So, that’s the biggie right now.”

Owen was nominated for two categories at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards for his album “River Runs: A Concerto for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone & Orchestra.” Not having his name called as a winner was a bit of a disappointment for Owen, but he hasn’t let that bring him down.

“When I do a project, I don’t do a project with the idea of trying to get a Grammy nomination or anything like that,” he said. “And so if it does [get recognized], great. And if it doesn’t, I’m still delighted to have had this kind of honor.”

The contact was made after the Grammy Awards, so Owen believes getting the opportunity to work with the orchestra could have been influenced a little bit by his nominations.

“It’s just like this wave that kind of builds and builds and builds and builds and builds from thousands of miles out,” he said. “So it’s kind of hard to know: was it this big gust of wind or was it that? I mean, you don’t really know what… Absolutely the Grammys kind of help out,”

In preparation for the performance, Owen has already written some pieces, one of which has been played at various jazz festivals in Europe.

“They wanted to kind of hype the February thing, so they asked me to have one track for them that they could do that, so that was fun,” Owen said. “I haven’t heard it, but they said it went well.”

Even with this performance occupying his time, Owen has other projects already in mind. With the 20th anniversary of his first album, “Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge,” coming around, Owen and his band have started bouncing ideas on what they should do for the big celebration.

“We have been talking about what we would do there, and the idea of doing an album in conjunction with that, possibly even a live album, which we’ve never done, is a little intriguing, so we’re thinking,” he said.

Along with the anniversary, Owen will be traveling around the United States on a lecture tour doing workshops and performances, as well as beginning to think about his next album.

“I’ve intended to come out with albums about every four years, and given all of my duties here [at the university], that’s about as much as I can get out, so that would mean that I probably need to get pretty serious about getting something together soon,” he said.

With the two Grammy nominations under his belt, Owen doesn’t feel the pressure of trying to gain another recognition. The pressure to grow comes from him wanting to write music that excites him and his listeners.

“I’m pretty good at pressuring myself. I always want to do good projects, and I want to make the project just as intriguing and as creative and as strong an effort as I possibly can,” he said.

In an unpredictable business, Owen never knows where his music will lead him. One thing he is certain on is conducting for the Aarhus Jazz Orchestra will be a gig he won’t soon forget.

“I’m thrilled to death to be getting a chance to write for them and go over and conduct, and kind of hang out with them,” he said. “Denmark in February, that’ll be fun.”