Dan Wilensky

Dan Wilensky

Instrument: Saxophone | Location: Portland

"Wilensky's individuality can be heard with his first notes. His sound is bright, crisp, and completely relaxed in all registers. His lines are direct, to the point, and completely his own; he just does not sound like anyone else."
—Saxophone Journal

Updated: December 12, 2020

Born: August 4, 1961

Dan Wilensky was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and moved to Berkeley the following year. Music was in the air at the Wilensky house: every family member played at least one instrument, and family jam sessions were frequent. He began piano lessons at age 8 and saxophone the following year after hearing the Duke Ellington Orchestra perform at Berkeley High School on a field trip. Dan flourished in the rich school music program created by Herb Wong, Dick Whittington, and Phil Hardymon, and also studied with BHS grad Steve Elson, and his teacher, Hal Stein. As a teenager, he street played, performed with schoolmates Benny Green, Craig Handy and Steve Bernstein, gigged with local bands, attended jazz clinics, won top honors in various competitions, performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival three times, and was a guest soloist with Woody Herman. When he was 17, Dan studied for a year with jazz legend Joe Henderson, and received a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music.

The summer after high school, Dan heard that Ray Charles was looking for a lead alto player for his big band. He auditioned, and got the gig. “Ray told me to be in LA on Monday. It was surreal,” Dan recalls. After six months with Ray, a brief stint at Eastman, and six months with Brother Jack McDuff, he moved to New York.

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GOOD MUSIC: "There are only two kinds of music. Good Music and the other kind." 

So said Duke Ellington, and probably a whole bunch of other people. Good Music is saxophonist Dan Wilensky's examination of music for music's sake, his unpretentious "serving the music" recording. Seven of the eleven tunes are chordless trio affairs, bringing—as a touchstone—Sonny Rollins' groundbreaking A Night At the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1958) to mind with its fearless flexibility and Wilensky's muscular and assured tone. Especially on the opener, George Gershwin's "S'Wonderful." 

Good Music is a remarkably cohesive set, in spite of its disparate compositional sources—Gershwin, The Beatles, The Youngbloods, Sammy Cahn, Pablo Beltran Ruiz, George Cates, to go along with five strong Wilensky originals. Credit Wilensky's focused musical personality and vision. 

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Primary Instrument




Willing to teach

Beginner to advanced


I've been teaching saxophone, flute and piano for 40 years. Many of my students, including Joshua Redman, Craig Handy, and Chris Byars, have gone on to true greatness. All ages and levels welcome; music therapy; flexible hours; same rates as 1977!

Clinic/Workshop Information

Riveting and fun as all hell!

Sonny Rollins
Miles Davis
Eric Dolphy
Jan Garbarek
saxophone, tenor
Dexter Gordon
saxophone, tenor
Joe Henderson
Johnny Hodges
saxophone, alto
Charlie Parker
saxophone, alto
Ben Webster
saxophone, tenor



From: Back In The Mix
By Dan Wilensky

Dan Wilensky Albums