Jim Santi Owen is an American percussionist, educator, producer, and performer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Drumming since the age of eight, Owen began an intensive training in the North Indian percussion instrument tabla in 1991, studying under Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri at the Ali Akbar College of Music, the California Institute of the Arts, and in India. In 1995, Owen began studying South Indian percussion instruments including mridangam, ghatam, kanjira and morsing with master percussionist T.H. Subash Chandran, and the temple drum, thavil, with K. Sekar. At Cal Arts, Owen studied Jazz with Charlie Haden, James Newton, and Tootie Heath and African drumming and dance from the Ladzekpo Brothers. He was fortunate to study North Indian music and tabla accompaniment from the great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Owen also studied the art of accompaniment for the North Indian dance known as Kathak from one of India’s greatest dancers, the late Pandit Chitresh Das. Owen holds a Bachelor’s of Humanities from New College of California and a Master’s degree in World Music from California Institute of the Arts. He served as the Music Director for the San Francisco World Music Festival from 2009 to 2014 and is on faculty at Dominican University, The Jazz Conservatory, LINES Ballet School, and the Ali Akbar College of Music. He has just completed 3-year term as a panelist on the Zellerbach Family Fund’s Community Arts Panel, is currently serving a 3-year term on the Funding Advisory Committee for the Arts and Culture Program of the City of Oakland and also serves on arts panels for the San Francisco Arts Commission.
Jim Santi Owen has performed extensively with world-class musicians from a myriad of cultural and musical backgrounds. These include his gurus, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Subash Chandran, and K. Sekar with whom he performed both in India and the U.S. Other internationally renowned artists with whom Owen has performed include: Jazz legend Pharoah Sanders, Nubian musician Hamza el Din, Double violin virtuoso Shenkar (L. Shankar) guitar innovator Stanley Jordan, Kathak dance master Pandit Chitresh Das, sitar maestro Kartik Seshadri, renowned Persian vocalist Sharam Nazeri, drumset virtuoso Steve Smith, minimalist composer Terry Riley, Jazz saxophonist Joseph Jarman (Art Ensemble of Chicago), Israeli oud player Yair Dalal, young sarode maestro Alam Khan, tabla virtuoso Bikram Ghosh, kanjira exponent Ganesh Kumar, Indo-Jazz fusion artist George Brooks, didgeridoo master Stephen Kent, devotional singer Jai Uttal, avant-garde pianist Myra Melford, Italian percussionist Alessandra Belloni, Tibetan artist Techung, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, Burmese pot- waing player Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Rova Saxophone Quartet, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and bansuri flute exponent Steve Gorn. Owen has also appeared on numerous recordings in America and has recorded in India with ghatam maestro T.H. Vikku Vinayakram and kanjira wizard Selva Ganesh.
Owen’s work as a composer/producer is featured on Facebook’s Sound Collection which has released over 130 of his original and traditional world music tracks highlighting the classical music of North and South India, folk musics of Rajasthan and Bengal, traditional music of Ghana, and classical traditions of Iran and the Middle East.
As Music Director for the San Francisco World Music Festival, Owen directed a Youth World Music Orchestra and collaborated with master musicians from China, South Korea, Tibet, India, Spain, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Mali, Azerbaijan, and Burma, and indigenous musicians from the Thao culture of Taiwan and the Costanoan Rumsen Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 1999, Owen received a fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies (A.I.I.S.), which enabled him to spend two and a half years living in India conducting research on classical and folk percussion ensembles. During this time, Owen was based alternately in Kolkata and Chennai but traveled extensively throughout India to document drumming traditions in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. In addition to the A.I.I.S. fellowship, Owen has been awarded five grants from the Zellerbach Family Fund, a fellowship from The National Gugak Center of South Korea, an Isadora Duncun Award, a Black Box Award from the SF Weekly, and numerous grants to support his work as Music Director of the San Francisco World Music Festival.
The San Francisco dance community has embraced Owen as an award- winning composer and performer. Owen has worked with numerous dancers and choreographers, including the San Francisco Ballet, Pandit Chitresh Das, Alonzo King, Kim Epifano, Joanna Haigood and Zaccho Dance Theater, Yannis Adoniou, Keith Hennessey, and K.J. Holmes. He has studied and taught Contact Improvisation and other body-based improvisational forms. From 1994 through 1998, Owen collaborated with dancer/musician Jules Beckman on an evolving form of dance, voice, and bucket drumming called Percussion Theater, which he continues to teach. Owen is currently on faculty with Dominican University, the San Francisco Dance Conservatory, LINES Ballet School, LINES Pre- Professional Program, and the ODC Children’s Program where he teaches music, drumming, and performance to hundreds of young dancers. He is currently Music Director/Composer for the Indian/Jazz Dance theater show, Hindu Swing and recently premiered a dance-percussion piece for Kathak dance and body percussion with Farah Yasmeen Shaikh at the International Body Music Festival.
As an educator, Owen has extensive experience working with students ranging in age from pre-school to the post-graduate level and beyond. Trained and certified in an approach to children’s music and dance education known as Orff-Schulwerk, Owen has taught music to children in numerous schools throughout California and around the world including Synergy, the San Francisco School, Park Day School, Marin Country Day School, and the Greenwood School. He has taught master classes for youth and adults in Hong Kong, Spain, and India. Owen was a featured clinician at the 2002 and 2007 AOSA (American Orff-Schulwerk Association) National Conferences and the 2000 NCOSA (Northern California Orff-Schulwerk Association) mini-conference. He has been a guest clinician, an art specialist for youth, a director of a K-8 music program and a lead teacher with Cal Art’s Community Arts Partnership. At the university level, Owen is on faculty at Dominican University and the California Jazz Conservatory. He has been a guest instructor with the Experimental Performance Institute of New College of California and has taught at Cornish University, California State University, Sacramento, and Cal Arts. Owen has twice been a featured performer and clinician at the Seattle World Rhythm Festival, California State University Sacramento’s Day of Percussion, and the Percussion Arts Society’s Day of Percussion.
Owen co-directs the award-winning Indian percussion ensemble Tabla Rasa with whom he produced San Francisco’s first Festival of Sacred Drumming, Dance, and Song in 1998 and the beloved Sacred Drums of India concerts.