If you know of Endea Owens, there's a good chance you know her as house bassist for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Her role in that setting is foundational, laying the groove that gives bandleader Jon Batiste room to soar. But there's another way Owens holds it down at street level, and it reflects a conviction flowing out of her own experience.
Owens came up in Detroit with a loving family that endured financial hardship. She found a jazz mentor there in bassist and educator Rodney Whitaker, who recognized her talent straightaway. She ended up in New York City to attend Juilliard, quickly making an impression — and not only on peers like Batiste. Lincoln Center anointed her one of its Emerging Artists of 2019.
As the momentum built, Owens made it clear that she has goals beyond a bright career: Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic brought life in New York City to a standstill, she assembled a band to play a community event in Harlem, while serving free meals to well over a hundred people. The Community Cookout, as she took to calling it, became a source of nourishing uplift in a difficult time. There's no distance between its message and Owens' music.
In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll join Owens for a couple of her cookouts, both uptown and out in Jamaica, Queens. We'll hear testimonials from her mother, Beth Jones, as well as Whitaker, Batiste and Wynton Marsalis — who joins Owens and others in a group called the Young Stars of Jazz, live from Dizzy's Club. And of course, we'll hear from Owens herself.
"If you have the ability to do something, you should do it," Owens says. "So it wasn't even a second thought to create The [Community] Cookout, to create something that would benefit everyone."
The Young Stars of Jazz: Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Alexa Tarantino, alto saxophone; Julian Lee, tenor saxophone; Endea Owens, bass; Kyle Poole, drums
"Dancers in Love" features Sean Mason, piano and Endea Owens, bass
Jon Batiste and Friends: Jon Batiste, piano; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Endea Owens, bass; Joe Saylor, drums; Nêgah Santos, percussion
The Cookout: Endea Owens, bass; Christopher McBride, alto saxophone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Corey Wilcox, trombone; Keith Brown, piano; CV Dashiell, drums
The Young Stars of Jazz, "Wabash" (Cannonball Adderley)
The Young Stars of Jazz, "Shade of Jade" (Joe Henderson)
Sean Mason and Endea Owens, "Dancers in Love" (Duke Ellington)
Jon Batiste and Friends, "Higher" (Batiste)
The Young Stars of Jazz, "All Blues" (Miles Davis)
The Cookout, "Sunday Morning" (Endea Owens)
Credits: Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Host: Christian McBride; JALC Music Engineer: Rob Macomber; Jon Batiste's Engineer: David Tallacksen; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand
This article originally misspelled the surname of David Tallacksen as 'Tallecksen.'