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Biography

With a technical fluidity on his instrument and strong connection to various forms of improvised music, James Owston is a highly regarded double bassist from the UK. 

 

Growing up in Gloucestershire playing the electric bass, James was introduced to jazz music, for which he quickly developed a passion, and transitioned onto double bass whilst studying at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. In 2019, James graduated with a first-class degree with honours. He has gone on to forge a prolific career, playing and recording with many of the UK’s most highly regarded musicians, and leading multiple projects of his own. 

 

His own trio completed their first UK tour in 2023. Having a strong connection to the chordless trio line up, this band feature great UK musicians Alex Merritt on tenor saxophone and Euan Palmer on drums. The ensemble is a platform that showcases James as a bandleader and composer, playing many of his original compositions and arrangements of songs from the jazz idiom. The broad range of original music both highlights James’s fascination with contemporary harmonic and rhythmic concepts, and his connection to various figureheads in the history of jazz music. 

 

Also in 2023, James was a participant in the Jazz Central Mentorship scheme. Working with his mentor, acclaimed tenor saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes, he composed a set of music entitled ‘Songs from an Imaginary Childhood’. This music explored the juxtaposition of his current view of the world, in comparison to his view as a child, taking inspiration from specific element of his own childhood.

 

In 2020, James worked with the Sounding Eye Collective and composed the music for their project ‘Dreamerfly, and Other Stories’.  This was a multidisciplinary work, and involved a collaboration with Beijing based artist/animator Shiyi Li. This project took multiple forms, starting as a remote recording (recorded in America and the UK due to COVID restrictions). The video was debuted live in October 2020 at the Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, as part of the Thirteen Ways of Looking Instillation, and eventually a full live performance was staged at the MAC, Birmingham, in September 2021.

 

Through his work as a bandleader and prominent sideman, James has built a strong reputation as an exciting, engaging and innovative bassist. With roots in jazz and bebop, his work in contemporary and freely improvised music has given way to a playing style that is highly creative and receptive to the music happening around him. James is known as a virtuosic soloist, with ideas that emulate a horn player coupled with a language that utilises the unique sound of the double bass. He has played and recorded with a diverse range of musicians including Clark Tracey, Paul Dunmall, Neil Yates, Xhosa Cole, Greg Abate, Dean Masser, Jay Phelps, Lekan Babalola, Martin Speake and in 2018 was a finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award, performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis.

 

During his time at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, James received tutelage from world class musicians including Arnie Somogyi, Mark Hodgson, John O’Gallagher, Percy Pursglove, Mike Williams and many others. As well as this regular tuition, many visiting artists would lead masterclasses and projects, in which James was a regular participant, having the opportunity to learn from jazz greats such as Mark Turner, Walter smith III, Gilad Hekselman, Tim Berne, Matt Mitchell amongst others. James was selected to take part in multiple international projects, travelling to Norway, Italy and Thailand to perform and represent the Conservatoire. To conclude his studies, James composed a suite of music called ‘Splitting the Atom’. This was performed by his nonet, and used ideas from Quantum/Astro-physics as inspiration for the compositions.

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"Owston played with a skill and maturity beyond his years, his tone big and resonant, his time keeping immaculate and his solos highly dexterous and consistently engaging."  

The Jazz Mann

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