Donny McCaslin, Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
Jason Lindner, Keyboards
Jonathan Maron, Bass
Zach Danziger, Drums
Event DurationThe concert will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
This concert and the Joyce and George T. Wein Shape of Jazz series are made possible by the Joyce and George Wein Foundation in memory of Joyce Wein.
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Absolutely Live Entertainment LLC.
Jeff Tamarkin on Donny McCaslin
When tenor and
soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his group—keyboardist Jason Lindner,
bassist Jonathan Maron, and drummer Zach Danziger—take the stage at Zankel
Hall, it’s a sure bet that at least some in the audience will be there because
of David Bowie. For Blackstar, the
final album recorded by the late rock chameleon, Bowie called upon McCaslin for
musical support, and suddenly the California-born, Brooklyn-based musician
found himself enjoying a major uptick in recognition—after more than 30 years
in the business.
“That whole experience of working on Blackstar has meant a lot more exposure for me outside of the jazz world and outside of the jazz press,” McCaslin says.
Following Bowie’s death, McCaslin dedicated his next—and most recent—album, Beyond Now, to the man he calls “a visionary artist.” Bowie, he says, “was fearless and constantly evolving and changing and pushing the boundaries, musically and artistically. Those are all things that I strive for, and to work with someone who embodies that is inspiring. He was really present and engaged in every moment at every level of the process. Also, he was very generous of spirit, a great human being.”
McCaslin says that he may include a Bowie song in his Zankel set, but he expects that the show will consist primarily of material from Beyond Now, as well as new music he’s writing especially for the occasion.
His longtime fans won’t be surprised if those new tunes take McCaslin into musical areas he hasn’t investigated before: Since he began playing professionally, he’s never been content to stay in one place artistically for very long. During a career that initially found him serving as a member of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s band and the critically acclaimed Steps Ahead before going off on his own, McCaslin has displayed a hunger for growth and change.
“I’m focused on what’s in front of me,” he says, “always looking at what I can do to grow as an artist and as a musician. I have evolved over the years, no question.” That truth becomes apparent while listening back to the dozen albums McCaslin has recorded as a leader since the late 1990s. During the past several years, in fact, he’s made some of his most pronounced stylistic shifts with the incorporation of electronica into his sound.
“It was my producer, David Binney, who said I should consider doing an electric record,” says McCaslin. “What was really attractive about electronica to me was the sonic landscapes and the rhythmic activity that are present. As we were making Beyond Now, I was listening to a lot of deadmau5, Kendrick Lamar, and Aphex Twin, plus all the music we had recorded with Bowie was still kind of fresh in my mind. Now I’m thinking about what’s coming next. I have ideas,” he says. “I’m just trying to find the time to work them out.”
—Jeff Tamarkin is a veteran music journalist.
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band, featured on David Bowie's Blackstar, made their Motéma Music debut with the October 2016 release of Beyond Now, a highly anticipated album dedicated to Bowie. Recorded nearly three months after Bowie's passing, the project is deeply influenced by their extraordinary experience collaborating with one of the greatest artists of all-time on his final album.
"It was like a dream, except it was something I never could have dreamed of," reflects McCaslin on working hand-in-hand with Bowie on Blackstar. "David Bowie was a visionary artist whose generosity, creative spirit, and fearlessness will stay with me the rest of my days. Beyond Now is dedicated to him and to all who loved him."
The repertoire on Beyond Now is expansive, comprising two Bowie songs; covers of deadmau5, MUTEMATH, and The Chainsmokers; as well as McCaslin originals, including the title composition, which was inspired by a song McCaslin recorded for Blackstar that didn't make the album.
With three Grammy nominations and 11 albums to his name, McCaslin's path to Bowie and Beyond Now can be traced back to 2011 with the release of his album Perpetual Motion, taking on an electric direction for the first time in contrast to his previous acoustic projects. Two subsequent albums--Casting for Gravity (2012) and Fast Future (2015) released with his working band--were directly influenced by electronica artists (covering groups such as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and Baths), which netted McCaslin a 2013 Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo.
The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with David Bowie came after composer Maria Schneider, a longtime collaborator, recommended McCaslin and his group to Bowie. Schneider and Bowie were collaborating on the track "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)," which featured McCaslin as a soloist. In June 2014, Bowie heeded Schneider's advice and made a visit to hear McCaslin and company at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village. Soon after, Bowie began corresponding with McCaslin over email and sending music, forming a new collaboration and friendship that transpired through the recording ofBlackstar until Bowie's passing. The result is Beyond Now, which documents "David Bowie's Last Band" as they were processing both their grief and Bowie's distinctive impact.
"This new album is an expression of that journey for all of us," says McCaslin. "David allowed Blackstar to be what it was going to be regardless of how people might have categorized it. More than anything, it was his fearlessness in crossing musical boundaries and genres in his music and life that inspired the approach I'm taking in Beyond Now. I am indebted to Bowie for showing me the risks and rewards of going for your uncompromising musical vision."