SFJAZZ.org | Interview w/ HUT Award Winner Owen Clapp

On The Corner Masthead


May 27, 2017 | by Erin Putnam

Each year, SFJAZZ puts out a call for proposals to jazz composers, commissioning an original work to be played by the High School All-Stars Big Band. The talent pool: High School All-Stars alumni, from the program’s birth in 2001 to the very most recent grads. The prize: $1000 awarded by the Hut Foundation and SFJAZZ. This year, 2009 All-Stars alumnus Owen Clapp rose to the challenge, submitting his outline for the piece “Tokyo” just as he had returned from the Japanese metropolis. We caught up with the bassist following his piece’s May 7th world premiere at the SFJAZZ Center to learn more about his composition, his recent social justice work, and his swath of musical projects.

Congratulations on winning the 2017 Hut Foundation Alumni Commission Award. The title of your piece is "Tokyo"; can you tell us the story behind that?

Thank you! It was an honor and such an exciting project for me. I found out about the application for the commission right before visiting Tokyo to play with my old friend Julian Le, who is an amazing pianist. Julian and everyone that I know who has been to Japan have had incredible experiences, so I knew that I was going to have a special week there. I've always been fascinated by art that draws its inspiration from physical locations - cities, countries, landscapes - so I thought about this as I was getting ready to visit, and wanted to make the piece reflective of my time there. I wish that I'd been a little more creative with the title! But it gets the point across that the music is supposed to paint a portrait of my impressions of the city. It was so much fun joining the band for rehearsals and hearing Paul Contos's metaphors for sections of the piece. I didn't consciously imagine lotus blossoms and gongs when I was writing, but I'm now seeing and hearing that those things influenced the piece in many ways.

What other musical projects are you working on right now?

Things have shifted recently - I just moved back to the Bay Area after almost 8 years in Los Angeles. It has been great to connect with the music scene and wonderful musicians here. Pianist Nathan Bickart and I play every first Sunday at the Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley, and I bring my own groups to Mr. Tipple's in San Francisco. I also have three main projects of my own in addition to playing with three L.A. based bands - the Aditya Prakash Ensemble, the Jonah Levine Collective, and the Le J Trio - all friends from college. All three of these bands will be playing in the Bay Area in the coming months.

Look for Owen’s commission piece, “Tokyo,” on the All-Stars 2017 album, due out this