Donny McCaslin- a very big shadow

The entire time I was in school studying music I was always in the shadow of Donny McCaslin, from seventh grade until my junior year at Berklee. Sometimes it was a little hard on the ol' ego, but mostly it was inspiring and motivating. If I would have gone to almost any other school in the country I would have had a bit more glory. Donny kept me humble and always pushed me to be a better musician. He is still one of the most humble and down to earth musicians that you could ever meet.

Every time our high school band would go to a Jazz festival competition our last tune would be Cottontail, an up-tempo Ellington rhythm changes. Donny would rip up about twenty choruses at 320 bpm and the entire house would go nuts. I mean they would jump to their feet, start screaming at the top of their lungs and wouldn't stop for about ten minutes.

No one had ever heard a high-school kid who sounded like Donny. He blew away most professionals by the time he was about seventeen years old.

How did he do this?!
Was he born ripping Trane lines at 350bpm?
Were his ears and reflexes just superior to the average human being's?

NO, he just practiced like a madman. For many years he put in as many hours a day in the woodshed as was humanly possible, and he still does to this day!

Donny's been paying his dues in NYC since about 1989 or 1990. His first gig out of college was Gary Burton's band, then he took Brecker's place when he left Steps Ahead (this was Donny's dream band). He is now one of the top call sidemen in New York and has recorded several CDs as a leader as well.

He's worked with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Monday Michuru, George Schuller's "Circle Wide" with Ingrid Jensen, Pat Metheny, Dave Douglas, Brian Blade, Tom Harrell, John Pattitucci, Billy Hart, Bebel Gilberto, Eddie Gomez, Alexander Sipiagin, William Cepeda and Afrorican Jazz, Santi Debriano's Circle Chant, George Gruntz, Luis Bonilla, Hector Martignon, Willie Colon, Roberta Pickett, Eric Mingus, Jason Linder Big Band, New York Voices, Gil Evans Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Ben Monder, Adam Rogers, Antonio Sanchez, Gene Jackson, Clarence Penn, Dan Weiss, Eric Mcpherson, Ben Street, Hans Glawisnig and James Genus, Jon Cowherd, and George Colligan.

Donny has some of the most amazing technique that you will ever hear on the saxophone. He also puts a lot of time into figuring out new ways to play over changes. He draws from contemporary saxophone etudes, figuring out how to apply them to Jazz improvisation. You can tell that he's trying that he's trying to develop his own original style. He has a very distinctive sound and approach to improvising.

I was lucky to have Donny play with my Latin-Jazz quintet when I was in New York. I miss hearing the latest things he's working on. He always has some wild ideas that he's developing.

His lastest release as a leader is really great. It has many different styles of music. He wrote some very interesting material for it.

Here is a transcription of Donny's solo on 'Along Came Betty'
Page 2 of 'Along Came Betty (this was transcribed by Kenny Brooks)
All ABout Jazz Article
Vermont Review interview


chicken little said...

Donny casts a huge but, not always, appearant shadow. What I mean is that if you ask your average jazz fan most don't know who he is. Every time I hear Donny play I just shake my head. He is an amazing improvisor and, even more, a really great human being.

Andrew said...

Amen to that! Donny just exudes a warmth and sincerity both in person and from the stage!