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Donny McCaslin: Close to the Spirit

By Published: May 29, 2006
AAJ: Maria Schneider's and Dave's bands are pretty special bands to be in for the reason that they actually do tour—meaning the United States, not just Europe. Do you have a personality that deals well with touring?

DM: Yeah. I do enjoy it. I like being out there playing. For me, the enjoyment is often linked to the aesthetic stimulation of the gig. I do enjoy touring in the States. The only drawback for me is not seeing my wife when I'm on the road. That's the tough part—being away from her. She was able to go with me recently when I did a week in Rome, so that was wonderful.

AAJ: You recently got a grant from Chamber Music America to do a composition for them. Tell me about it.

DM: I made my proposal to Chamber Music America around the time I was making Soar, so I talked about taking elements of folk music from Africa, Central and South America, and combining that with my musical language, which is jazz-based but also includes classical, pop and rock—and trying to bring it together. Basically, the concept of Soar, but I'm not doing the exact same thing. So I'm writing stuff based on Afro-Peruvian rhythms and a lot of other things.

I'm happy with what I've written; I'm over halfway done in terms of the compositional process. I would say the concept is similar to Soar, sort of an extension of that, but adding some different elements, folklorically [laughing] speaking. The concerts are August 11 and 12 at the Jazz Gallery, but the songs need to be completed by the end of June.

AAJ: Well, you'd better bring some work with you on the road.

DM: That's the hard part, man—finding time to write when I'm travelling a lot. That's hard.

AAJ: You're a particularly hard-working musician. I looked at your gigs on your website, and the days are pretty filled. There's even one day where you've got two separate gigs with two different bands in one night. It's great to work, but how do you balance the need to work and the need to write, rehearse, and perform your own music?

DM: It's hard. I just try to do the best I can. But it's definitely a challenge. If I work less as a sideman, I'd probably be putting more energy into getting gigs as a leader. And I am trying to get more gigs as a leader—but it is hard to balance everything. But I enjoy playing. Sometimes I feel like I play too much, and I need to say no to certain things more often. But at the same time, I feel like I kind of thrive on playing a lot—I'm interacting with different musicians, I'm playing other people's music. I feel that's a way for me to grow as a musician. I enjoy that.

AAJ: Well, you are a saxophonist, after all.

DM: [laughing] That's right!

AAJ: This is a busy year for you. You've got these two records out now, you're touring with Dave Douglas. Outside of this Chamber Music America project, are you writing anything else?

DM: No, no. Basically all the material I'm writing right now is for that. I am starting to get excited about the possibility of recording the CMA music, so that's on my mind. I'd also like to start writing some swing—well, jazz—well, I don't know how to describe it. Something more like swing tunes, less like Soar. So this summer I'm hoping to get some writing done and be prepared to make a record or two in the next year or so.

Selected Discography

Donny McCaslin, Soar (Sunnyside, 2006)
Dave Douglas, Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf, 2006)
Matthias Lupri Group, Metalix (Summit, 2006)
Donny McCaslin, Give and Go (Criss Cross, 2006)
Gene Ess, Sandbox and Sanctum (SIMP, 2005)
Deanna Witkowski, Length of Days (ArtistShare, 2005)
Greg August, Late August (Self Published, 2005)
Maria Schneider Orchestra, Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004)
Donny McCaslin, The Way Through (Arabesque, 2003)
Danilo Pérez, ...Till Then (Verve, 2003)
Luciana Souza, North and South (Sunnyside, 2003)
Alex Sipiagin, Mirrors (Criss Cross, 2003)
Hans Glawischnig, Common Ground (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003)
Deanna Witkowski, Wide Open Window (Khaeon, 2003)
Mary Ann McSweeney, Swept Away (Sparky 1 Productions, 2003)
Dave Binney, Balance (ACT, 2002)
Bruno Råberg, Chrysalis (Orbis, 2002)
Tony Monaco, Master Chops T (Summit, 2002)
Mary Ann McSweeney, Thoughts of You (Sparky 1 Productions, 2001)
Lan Xang, Hidden Gardens (Naxos, 2000)
Donny McCaslin, Seen From Above (Arabesque, 2000)
Eric Mingus, Um— Er— Uh— (Some Records, 1999)
Ron Kaplan, Lounging Around (Kapland, 1999)
Dave Binney, Free to Dream (Mythology, 1998)
Reuben Wilson, Organ Donor (Jazzateria, 1998)
Lan Xang, Lan Xang (Mythology, 1998)
Donny McCaslin, Exile and Discovery (Naxos, 1998)
Scott Colley, Portable Universe (Freelance, 1998)
Roberta Piket, Unbroken Line (Criss Cross, 1997)
Ken Schaphorst, Purple (Naxos, 1996)
Steps Ahead, Vibe (NYC, 1996)

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