Born: August 11, 1966 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Donny McCaslin launched 2004 with a new CD, balancing his career as bandleader with work as one of New York's most in-demand tenor saxophonists. On his latest Arabesque releae, The Way Through, the Brooklyn-based artist continues to defy label, proving he can unearth musical truth in any medium.
The album goes in a lot of different directions, but there's a line that goes through it for me, Donny says of his third solo effort, which follows 2003's Seen From Above and 1998's Exile And Discovery.
That line is a trio; McCaslin, weilding tenor and soprano saxophones; drummer Adam Cruz (also heard on marimba and steel pans); and bassist Scott Colley, Donny's co-conspirator in Lan Xang, the edgy, free blowing quartet with drummer Kenny Wollesen and alto saxophonist David Binney.
On several of the CD's 11 tunes, Donny augments this troika with help from Binney on horn and sampler, vocalist Luciana Souza, flutist Anders Bostrom, and clarinetist Douglas Yates. With this limitless palette of colors, McCaslin paints ideas on other canvasses, veering into contemporary classical and electronica, but infusing them with his own brush.
The recording earned critcal praise in May's JAZZTIMES, calling it McCaslin's most fully realized project to date...McCaslin blends hisinside and outside sensibilities into one sumptuous and satisfying package.
The recording showcases Donny's stellar improvisation and composing skills and sinewy tenor sound. The way the band interacts with one another, it's very communicative, very organic, McCaslin says. It's almost like we're functioning like one organim in a lot of spots, which is very exciting to me.
The session runs the gamut from intervallic post-modern exercises, such as McCaslin's Skyward, to Afro-Cuban inspired workouts, including a solo go at Dizzy Gillespie's Woody and You, and the Astor Piazolla inspired San Lorenzo, another McCaslin original featuring Souza. She's amazing, McCaslin says of the Brazilian songstress, whom he performed with in Danilo Perez's Motherland Ensemble. Donny appeared on Souza's 2003 Grammy-nominated CD North and South (Sunnyside).
Shadowlands pays tribute to composer Oliver Messian, working its way from haunting, moody ostinato to frenzied jam.
The album's title track fuses contemporary classical with a jazz sensibility. For that, Donny tapped the ethos of legendary Old and New Dreams ensemble (saxophonist Dewey Redman, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Ed Blackwell) for the pan-global inspiration. Standards old and not-so-old also get the McCaslin treatment. Sammy Cahn's elegant I Should Care takes on a new persona in 5/4 time. Meanwhile, McCaslin, Cruz, and Colley team with bass clarinetist Yates to reinterpret Wayne Shorter's Fee Fi Fo Fum.
McCaslin and Binney explore the outer edges on Flutter and Free California (both men hail from the Golden State). Sampler in hand, Binney duels with the ensemble on McCaslin's Break Tune. Meanwhile, Donny pushes his art on the ambient-tinged What Remains, an atmospheric-sounding tune that draws on Bjork and U.K.'s Squarepusher.
The Way Through isn't the only thing keeping Donny busy. He spent the last two years working with Perez and can be heard on the pianist's 2003 recording 'Til Then (Verve).
In January 2004, Donny joined Maria Schneider's Jazz Orchestra after subbing on the band for years. A year earlier Schneider featured him on her Buleria, Solea y Rumba, commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center. He also recorded that piece on Schneider's latest CD, Concert in the Garden (Artists Share) and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for his work on that track.
Donny has also been playing with the great Trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas and his Quintet which featrues fellow Schneider bandmate Clarence Penn on Drums, Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes, and James Genus on Bass. Other performing credits include Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Steps Ahead, Brian Blade, Tom Harrell, John Pattitucci, Billy Hart, Bebel Gilberto, Flora Purim and Airto, Monday Michuru, Eddie Gomez, Alexander Sipiagin, William Cepeda and Afrorican Jazz, Santi Debriano's Circle Chant, George Gruntz, Luis Bonilla, Hector Martignon, Willie Colon, Eric Mingus, Jason Linder Big Band, New York Voices, Gil Evans Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. He's also loaned tenor work to solo recordings by fellow Lan Xang bandmates Colley and Binney. Meanwhile, Donny continues to make regular appearances with his band, often at New york City's 55 Bar club. Various sidemen on the gig include guitarists Ben Monder and Adam Rogers, drummers Antonio Sanchez, Gene Jackson, Clarence Penn, Dan Weiss, and Eric Mcpherson; bassists Hans Glawisnig, Boris Kozlov, and James Genus; and pianists Jon Cowherd and George Colligan. Donny will also be leading a band at the Islay Jazz Festival in Scotland this year.
Having a group and an environment to present and develop my music is essential to my growth as an artist, composer, and bandleader, he says. I'm grateful to the 55 Bar and it's owner Queva Lutz for providing me such a place.
Donny McCaslin was born August 11, 1966, the son of a high school english teacher turned Jazz musician. The elder McCaslin is a prominent pianist and vibraphonist in Donny's hometown of Santa Cruz, a coastal community 90 miles south of San Francisco. Enveloped by music, particularly jazz, Donny picked up the saxophone at the age of 12.
While studying with local players, Donny absorbed the work of John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, and Michael Brecker. Today he cites an eclectic range of influences, from Duke Ellington to Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter to Stan Getz, Stevie Wonder to Soundgarden, and Frank Sinatra to Los Papines and Los Munequitos De Matanzas.
Donny attended Aptos High School, renowned forit's Jazz program. Before he graduated, Donny toured Europe with the school's big band, wowed local musicians with his precocious chops and mature sound, and played in the Monterey Jazz Festival's California all-star band three years running. Donny attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied with George Garzone, Joe Viola and Billy Pierce. Vibraphonist (and Berklee faculty member) Burton hired Donny, a four year stint that led to work with Burton's pianist, Makoto Ozone, around Boston.
On a jazz cruise with Burton, a then 23-year old McCaslin blew away the late Leonard Feather, who wrote that Donny amazed the audience one night by stealing the show in a saxophone jam featuring such seasoned pros as Red Holloway, Phil Woods, David Fathead Newmanand Flip Phillips.
Donny moved to New York City in 1991 and quickly found work with bassist Eddie Gomez. Gomez introduced Donny to vibraphonist Mike Manieri, which led to work with Steps Ahead for two and a half years. Donny recorded on the band's track on the compilation album Jazz to the World(Blue Note) and the band's 1995 release Vibe (NYC) in which he co-wrote a song.
In 1996, Donny played a principal solo role in composer-trumpeter Ken Schaphorst's Uprising, a big-band work that featured him and was debuted at Lawrence University. The piece was subsequently released on Schaphorst's recording Purple (Naxos) three years later, with Donny 's solo work winning rave reviews from the jazz media.
In 1998, Donny released Exile and Discovery, a collection of standards, originals and Astor Piazolla etudes. The album teamed Donny with drummer Billy Drummond, pianist Bruce Barth and bassist Ugonna Okegwo. For the auspious debut, Jazziz magazine proclaimed, This newcomer already sounds like a vet.
Around the same time, Donny was jamming with Binney. The sessions morphed into Lan Xang, which was more of an experimental collective. The group offered up it's debut in 1997 with an eponymous title album on Mythology records.