Saxophonist, composer, educator
One cannot mention the Northeast Jazz community in the US without very quickly getting to his name. An accomplished performer and formidable composer/arranger, saxophonist Brian McCarthy is emerging as a prominent example of the modern day instrumentalist. Seven Days called him …a staple of the Burlington jazz scene. Jazz trumpet marvel Ray Vega called him plainly, “one of the most important jazz musicians to the Vermont scene, a sentiment echoed by mentor and saxophone guru Dr. David Demsey, coordinator of the renowned jazz program at William Paterson University, McCarthy's alma mater, who added, Brian showed when he was a student and my grad assistant here that he could hang with the best young players in the country, and he has gone on, as expected, to become a major force and fixture on the northern New England music scene, as a player and as a teacher.
An intoxicating improviser, mature sound and adaptive skills make McCarthy a highly sought after musician through all styles of music, with an expanding discography. From the halls of William Paterson University, to the stage at The Blue Note, he has performed and recorded with trumpet legend Clark Terry (album unreleased). Locally, McCarthy has shared his skills with debunked hip-hop/drum&bass group “Voice” and their 2004 self-titled release. In 2010, bassist Mike Gordon, of the super star jam band Phish, called upon McCarthy’s talents to arrange and play on his latest solo release “Moss.” Clint Bierman, of The Grift, had McCarthy lend those same playing and arranging talents for his upcoming 2011 solo release, featuring original jam and rock tunes infused with McCarthy’s horn writing and playing.
His debut album as a band leader, “Brian McCarthy Quartet” (2011), embodies the vision of two years’ writing specifically to showcase Vermont’s ability to produce great original jazz. Through carefully attended and mindful preparations, McCarthy, along with Tom Cleary on piano, John Rivers on bass and Jeff Salisbury on drums, was able to record the material in only one day. The end product is that of a seasoned band with a cohesive sound. Dan Bolles of Seven Days says “McCarthy snags the spotlight for himself, delivering a sparkling album of original compositions — and one cover — that deserves a prominent place in the record stacks of local jazz aficionados.” The lead cut “Flood Gates” is described by All About Jazz as “Straight ahead jazz with a clear voice and solid playing. (His) Alto has plenty of fire without surrendering its lighter touch.” The albums widely positive response earned the quartet a featured spot at the 2011 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. In McCarthy’s own words, “…I’m just getting started.”
When he’s not leading the stage, you can find his sound rounding out the horn section of jazz trumpet mogul Ray Vega’s Quintet every week, though recently they’re on hiatus while Ray is taking care of important family matters. And for those who frequent Burlington’s most popular night clubs, you’ve no doubt seen that iconic silver tenor saxophone with Burlington’s most popular funk establishment, The Grippo Funk Band. Joining the band in 2004, McCarthy juggled full-time school in New Jersey, while maintaining his presence with the GFB and the Vermont music scene. Since finishing school though, the New York Throughway has seen a little less of his car, and Vermont has enjoyed his saxophone playing and arranging skill that have kept the GFB turning out new material, and packing the nightclubs to capacity.
Off stage, McCarthy has laid down roots as a central figure in music education. University of Vermont has had McCarthy roaming the halls and leading classrooms and ensembles since 2007. Johnson State College has his Joe Allard inspired teaching methods (vie Dr. David Blackstone Demsey, a student of Allard) in the practice room with their students since 2009. Saint Michael’s College has recently seen fit to appoint him as Director of their big band. Students ranging from music majors to psychology majors have benefited from his 12 years of experience as an educator and professional. They’re not the only ones who benefit though. High schools and their students across the state see this local saxophone expert regularly. The All-State festival, which once upon a time McCarthy was in as a student, now sees a veteran version of the young boy, standing in front of the next generation, offering his guidance and ever-growing knowledge.
All ready a respected professional and educator, McCarthy continues to expand his work as a bandleader and first-call sideman, as well as a sought after teacher. Certainly the future holds many remarkable developments from this up-and-coming artist.