Juan Garcia-Herreros, a/k/a “The Snow Owl,” talks about his musical migration from Colombia to Austria (via NYC and Florida), his hot new CD and more!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
November 1, 2010
Juan Garcia-Herreros, a/k/a “Snow Owl,” was born in Bogotá, Colombia. His first musical studies began with flute at the age 9 after moving to New York City with his family. After he completed middle school, Juan’s family relocated once again, this time to Dunedin, Florida, where he discovered the electric bass and taught himself how to play.
Juan was just 16 when he began to teach music theory and jazz performance at Dunedin High School. Upon the encouragement of his high school band teacher, he began studying the acoustic bass, which he played in the Tampa Symphony at just 17 years of age. Around the same time, Juan received a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he studied with Bruce Gertz, Joe Santerre, Rich Appleman and Oscar Stagnaro. After attending Berklee, Juan returned to New York City, where he became involved in the music scene, playing everything from jazz, pop, funk, salsa, rock, heavy metal and avant garde. At age 26, he moved to Vienna, Austria, where he currently resides.
During his career, Snow Owl has performed and/or collaborated with Elton John, Terri Lyne Carrington, Greg Osby, Lew Soloff, Mark Whitfield, Bill Carrothers and many others. He is the recipient of several awards and distinctions, including “Best Jazz Artist” award by Jazz First and a German “Critic’s Choice” award for his debut album as a leader, Snow Owl. In 2009, Juan was selected as a Projekt xchange ambassador to represent Colombia and for his integration as an artist in Austrian society, during which he was personally thanked and congratulated by Austrian president Dr. Heinz Fischer.
FBPO: What kind of musical upbringing did you have? Didn’t you start out at as a flute player?
SO: Before I start, Jon, I just wanted to thank you for this interview and the fantastic bass platform you have set up here in FBPO.
Yes, my first instrument was the flute and I still haven’t figured out why I chose it at the age of 9. More or less, I would say I am a self-taught musician who had the privilege of being mentored by my fellow friends and musicians.
FBPO: How did you end up as a bass player?
SO: My brother began to play drums at the beginning of high school and he bullied me into playing electric bass with him!
FBPO: You lived in several places while growing up. How would you say the different environments in Colombia, New York City and Florida influenced your musical development?
SO: Colombia: Passion. New York: Survival and rhythm. Florida: Patience
FBPO: Is it true that you were a high school music teacher when you were only 16?
SO: Unfortunately, in high school, the county was more interested in funding football than the arts. As a result, my band teacher was forced to teach at two schools every day. This created a situation where if no one volunteered to teach music theory and jazz
ensemble, the class would not be offered that semester. I volunteered and my band teacher helped me with the lesson plans. I am so grateful for that experience. Teaching and learning at the same time was a great foundation.
FBPO: Can you identify a turning point when your career started to take off?
SO: Absolutely! The day I decided to be a full-time musician, regardless of money or success. At that point my career immediately began to take direction. Many energies came together and formed a path. I relied on faith and persistence.
FBPO: How did you end up in Austria?
SO: I was given the opportunity to teach electric bass at the University of Graz.
FBPO: Tell me about your new CD, Art of Contrabass Guitar.
SO: It’s a very important musical statement for me as a whole. The CD has so many intertwining emotions. This was really the kind of production I had been dreaming of achieving since I was a kid. Almost all of my mentors participated in the recording. I learned so much from them. Finally the day arrived where I was the bandleader instead of the sideman!
FBPO: What’s keeping you busiest these days?
SO: A new house and a new dog. [laughs]
FBPO: What else would you like to accomplish in your career that you haven’t done yet?
SO: The only thing worth accomplishing is personal happiness. This will always be my goal.
FBPO: What do you like to do that’s not necessarily musically oriented?
SO: Long walks, companionship, reading, friends, FC Barcelona, movies and cooking.
FBPO: So, how’d you get the nickname “Snow Owl?”
SO: The day I was born, there was an Indian chief in the hospital and he told my father that a snow owl had brought me here from the spirit world. For as long as I can remember, no matter where I was, there has always been an owl around me. It might be a real owl, a stuffed owl, an owl painted on the wall…that image always seems to follow me everywhere.
Later on, before I went to Berklee, I had an encounter with a shaman at an Indian reservation. He said to me, “You know, you should not deny your feathers. You’re a snow owl.” He didn’t even know anything about my birth story, but he could feel that energy! When he said, “Don’t deny your feathers,” it was very beautiful. So I figured, for an artistic name, why not welcome the entity?