Dan Wilensky

Dan Wilensky

Musicians | 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 7, 2022

Born: August 4, 1961

Dan Wilensky was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and moved to Berkeley, California 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 at 9 after he attended a Duke Ellington Orchestra concert. Wilensky flourished in the superb Berkeley public school music program, and studied saxophone privately with BHS grad Steve Elson, and his teacher, Hal Stein, and classical piano with Julian White. As a teenager, he street played, performed with schoolmates Benny Green, Craig Handy, Paul Hanson and Steve Bernstein, gigged with local bands, won top honors in various competitions, performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival three times, and was a guest soloist with the Woody Herman Orchestra. When he was 17, Wilensky studied for a year with jazz legend Joe Henderson, and received a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music.

The summer after high school, Wilensky 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,” he recalls. After six months with Ray, a brief stint at Eastman, and six months with jazz great Jack McDuff, he moved to New York.

“It was like starting all over. I was street playing, doing rodeos out at Nassau Coliseum, and playing funerals in the Village,” says Wilensky of his first year in the Big Apple. He recorded, gigged and toured with dozens of small groups, including Nitesprite (Paul Adamy, Rob Aries, Andy Bloch, Joe Bonadio, Vaneese Thomas, and Dave Weckl), Who It Is! (Cornell Dupree, Steve Gadd, Will Lee, and Richard Tee), and Slickaphonics (featuring Ray Anderson and Mark Helias). In 1986, Wilensky worked in the house band at the Playboy Club, played Bob Fosse’s Broadway show Big Deal, won a National Endowment for the Arts award for jazz performance and composition, and toured with Steve Winwood playing saxophone and keyboards. He subsequently played on numerous commercial jingles, film soundtracks and TV themes, and can be heard on over 250 records, including hits by Santana, Madonna, R. Kelly, Freddie Jackson, Deborah Harry, Donna Summer, Bryan Ferry, Mark Murphy, Keith Washington, Hall & Oates, Melissa Manchester, James Brown, Rory Block, Manhattan Transfer, and Faith No More.

Other career highlights include touring with Joan Baez as her pianist, recording and performing in videos and TV shows with David Bowie, Steve Winwood, Martika, and Sheena Easton, playing with Rick Derringer in the TV house band for Joy Behar’s Way Off Broadway, and gigging with Ben E. King, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Carole King, Cab Calloway and Aretha Franklin. Wilensky has also appeared on The Today Show, The Tonight Show, Late Night With David Letterman, The View, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The Arsenio Hall Show, and The Uncle Floyd Show, and performed regularly at many of New York’s legendary clubs, including The Bitter End, Kenny’s Castaways, Mercury Lounge, The Bottom Line, The Village Gate, Sweet Basil, Mikell’s, Seventh Avenue South, and The Lone Star Roadhouse, as well as larger venues like Madison Square Garden and Avery Fisher Hall, and iconic European locales such as New Morning (Paris), Quasimodo (Berlin), and the Montreux and Stockholm Jazz Festivals. Wilensky was also featured extensively in the twelve year run of the Emmy® – winning PBS children’s show Between the Lions. In addition, he wrote two saxophone method books, Saxophone Technique, and Advanced Sax.

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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

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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


Management and booking

CONTACT DAN for private lessons, master classes, world-class horn sections, arrangements, and house concerts.



All About Jazz user Anna Petrova

Dan Wilensky Albums