The Snow Owl flies low
‘The Best Bass Player In The World’? You’d be forgiven for assuming that it would be impossible to select a single bassist for that title – and yet that’s exactly what the readers of Bass Player and Bass Guitar magazines did in 2019, when they voted Juan García-Herreros, also known by his indigenous name ‘Snow Owl’, to the top of their annual Best Bassist poll.
Dig deeper into Snow Owl’s incredible career, though, and you begin to understand why these devotees of the bass guitar chose him for this ultimate honour. This Colombia-born, US-raised, Austria-resident world traveller has been nominated for a Latin Grammy®, he’s played the world’s biggest arenas, multiple Grammy® winning artists and Oscar® winning composers have collaborated with him on a regular basis and as a composer, he has been honoured with numerous prestigious awards. These include three Gold Medals of the Global Music Awards in 2016 for World Jazz, Best Album and Best New Release. He’s also a film director, with his projects selected by international film festivals such as the Music Video Underground in Los Angeles, the Austrian Film Festival and the Film Festival in Cannes.
All this has come from Juan’s drive to succeed, as becomes evident when you learn about his personal history. Born in Bogota, Colombia, his first musical studies began with the flute at the age of nine, after moving to New York City to escape the drug cartel war in his home country. His family relocated to Dunedin, Florida where he attended middle school and discovered the electric bass – and although his family was unable to afford private lessons, his passion for learning took over, pushing him to become a self-taught musician.
Juan’s yearning to study music was so strong that his high school teacher recognised his ambition and gave him the key to the classroom where the instrument was stored. The budding bassist would sneak into the school at night, through a window that the teacher left open for him, to spend hours practising until his fingers were bleeding, before attending his classes again in the morning.
The rewards for all this effort began to amass when, aged 16, he began to teach Music Theory and Jazz Performance at Dunedin High School in Florida. He studied acoustic bass in order to join the symphonic band in school, which paid off when he was accepted as part of the Tampa Bay Symphony, at just 17 years of age. At the same time he competed in New Orleans during the Berklee College of Music Scholarship Tour and received one of Berklee’s coveted awards, enabling him to attend the prestigious school in Boston. His instructors included the world-renowned bass gurus Bruce Gertz, Joe Santerre, Rich Appleman and Oscar Stagnaro.
Aged 21, Juan returned to New York City to pursue a professional music career. Surrounded by a diversity of musical styles, Juan was able to adapt his playing to all music formats – whether jazz, pop, funk, salsa, rock, classical, metal or avant-garde – without compromising the integrity of his own, unique sound. Performances with artists as diverse as Elton John and Christina Aguilera soon established his reputation and in 2004 he relocated to Vienna, Austria, to begin a new phase of his career as a soloist and musical director. It was also in the heart of this historical city that Juan’s lifelong dream of studying orchestral works from the great European composers came to fruition.
A few years later he was asked to join Tomek Productions’ annual ‘Hollywood in Vienna’ Film Music Gala. Within 8 editions of the prestigious event Juan collaborated with award winning composers, conductors and artists such as Hans Zimmer, Lalo Schifrin, James Horner, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat, David Newman, Al Jarreau, Lisa Gerrard and Vienna’s Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Gala is regularly featured on worldwide television and has been viewed over 100 million times on Youtube alone.
In recent years Snow Owl has elevated his musical endeavours to the level of international philanthropy. His 2014 Latin Grammy® nomination in the category of Best Latin Jazz Album had never been previously achieved either by an electric bass player or a Colombian world/jazz musician. In 2016 he brought Austria and Colombia a triple gold medal at the Global Music Awards for Best World Jazz, Best Album and Best New Release.
Now in his prime as a composer and performer, Snow Owl has released a sequence of albums dedicated to raising awareness in his home country, the most recent of which, ‘The Blue Road’, has been hailed as a masterpiece in the media and by fans around the globe. He has also taken up the electric bass role with none other than Hollywood film music composer Hans Zimmer in the ongoing World Of Hans Zimmer symphonic arena tour, one of the world’s most prestigious events.
So – ‘The Best Bass Player In The World’? Looks like those magazine readers knew what they were talking about...
(Joel McIver, Editor Bass Player Magazine)