Colombian bassist (and CD Baby artist) Juan García-Herreros — also known as Snow Owl —was nominated for a Latin Grammy this year in the category of Best Latin Jazz Album.
What’s it like for an independent musician to be recognized in this way? And what does it mean for his music? I asked Snow Owl a few questions about the Grammy process, recording jazz standards, running a DIY music career, his new album Normas, and more.
An interview with acclaimed bassist Snow Owl
Well first, why the name “Snow Owl?” What does it say about you, or about your instrument?
First of all I want to say Thank You to CD Baby for taking the time to interview me and for supporting my career! Thanks to your wonderful services my music is being globally distributed.
Snow Owl is actually my real name. It is my totem spirit and guardian in this physical realm. My instrument, compositions and musicians are the wings which carry my flight.
Many jazz musicians cut Standards albums, and Normas is your way of carrying on that tradition. But it’s also not a “typical” Standards album. What’s different about Normas, and why did you think it was important to approach a collection of Standards from that angle?
Each and every Jazz artist must at one point at his career record a “standards” album. It is an homage to the tradition and a proof of his improvisational accomplishments. For this album entitled Normas (“Standards” in Spanish) I have taken the titles of famous Jazz compositions and translated them into my interpretations of what the standards of today in Jazz should be.
We’re pretty familiar with the prestige a Grammy-nomiation carries in the USA, but what does that mean for a Latin American artist to get nominated? What does that do for a Latin American artist’s career?
It is an amazing honor to receive a nomination, so much that it was the national news in my home country of Colombia.
The nomination expands your audience and brings international awareness to your musical achievements.
What does it mean for you personally?
To be nominated alongside Chick Corea and Paquito D’Rivera has been a breathtaking acknowledgement of my potential. To quote Joe Zawinul: “I am happy but not satisfied. ” There is more to come, so stay tuned.
How does the Latin American Grammy process differ from the English-speaking version?
It’s the same process, not so different. All nominees are democratically elected.
What is the independent music scene like in Columbia? And as someone who performs globally and collaborates with artists from all over the world, how do concepts like place, home, nationality, or region-ality consciously inform your music, if at all? In the Jazz world, has the Internet made some of those distinctions obsolete?
My Colombian roots will always be my garden and my musical experiences will be the seeds which I plant within. Some will grow together, some will blossom and some will wither. Jazz for me has always been an independent art form, full of champions fighting to keep this great tradition alive.
I have mixed feelings about the Internet and its impact on creative arts. On the one hand many unsung heroes have been finally heard. On the other the digital listeners and viewers have not respected or valued the worth of that artist’s dedication. An entire generation of new listeners are being raised with the concept that music is just magically free. Just imagine in what state of a world we would live in if you could download oil for free.
You’re “independent” in the sense that you’re guiding your own career, but I imagine you’ve built a trusted team around you, right? If so, who are those people, and how does the team work together?
My production team consists of a network of trusted individuals which have helped me since the beginning of my career. I have a manager for booking my group in which we share the work together and I have a photographer for producing images/videos for social media.
To what extent are you involved in your own online marketing?
100% involved ! If you contact me through one of my social channels you will receive a personal response from me.
What’s in store for 2015?
As always, new compositions, looking for new directions to explore and a lot of touring.
To hear Snow Owl’s music, check out Normas on CD Baby.