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Earl MacDonald

Described as “a magical, musical alchemist of hip hybrids” (Hartford Courant) and “a major force in the world of jazz composition” (Dan Bilawsky, AllAboutJazz.com), MacDonald’s inexhaustible commitment to the jazz art form reveals itself in his performing, composing and teaching.

All seven of MacDonald’s albums differ in instrumentation — ranging from a quartet comprised of cello, saxophone, piano & percussion to a full 17-piece jazz big band. This variance speaks to MacDonald’s restless artistic spirit, unquenchable inquisitiveness and his desire to continue stretching himself musically. Such experimentation led one reviewer to speculate vis-à-vis “. . . an attempt to create a hybrid jazz form” (JazzReview.com). Each project leaves an indelible impression, garnering critical acclaim and accolades: two Independent Music Awards (for Jazz Song and Jazz Producer of the Year) and two JUNO nominations for jazz album of the year.

As a composer, MacDonald embraces the roles of social commentator and provocateur, broaching consequential subject matter in his music. In addition to composing music for his own ensembles and recording projects, MacDonald often receives commissions to write pieces for jazz big bands. Praised for his creative compositional voice, MacDonald won the Sammy Nestico Award, sponsored by the Airmen of Note, was a finalist for Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Award (during his affiliation with the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop in New York City) and twice he appeared as a finalist for the ArtEZ Composition Contest in the Netherlands. His compositions for 17-piece jazz orchestra have been performed by professional and university- based ensembles across North America.

MacDonald serves as a professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut. The UConn Chapter of the AAUP honored MacDonald with its Excellence in Teaching Innovation Award (2006), and the Teaching Promise award (2003). In 2013 he garnered the Outstanding Faculty Award for the School of Fine Arts. His passion for jazz education stretches beyond UConn; he adjudicates educational jazz festivals in the U.S. and Canada, presents at conferences, conducts high school honor bands, and teaches at summer programs and jazz camps.

His own education includes a bachelor of music degree in jazz performance at Montréal’s McGill University and a master of music degree from Rutgers, where he apprenticed with NEA Jazz Master, Kenny Barron. (Barron’s recording of MacDonald’s Wanton Spirit earned a Grammy- nomination.) MacDonald jokes about “attending the Maynard Ferguson Finishing School for Bandleaders-in-Training.” The experience he gained as Ferguson’s pianist and musical director at the end of the 1990s cast a formative imprint.

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Album Review
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Press Quotes, listed by album:


Open Borders (2017)


"The leader’s gifts with the pen are apparent, as the sound of ten can balloon to the sonic proportions of twenty or fold inward to sound like a small combo."

~ Dan Bilawsky, All-About-Jazz


"Diversity, dynamism, and equilibrium are fundamental aspects in Earl MacDonald’s music- making. These eleven stylishly orchestrated pieces are a pure reflection of his musical capabilities."

~ Filipe Freitas, JazzTrail.net


"Man oh man, do these arrangements crackle with spirit! From the high-flying 'Dig In Buddy' to the exhilarating Latin flavors 'Dolphy Dance,' MacDonald’s prodigious gifts as an arranger shine."

~ Mike Jurkovic, All-About-Jazz


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Primary Instrument




Willing to teach

Intermediate to advanced


Earl MacDonald teaches at the University of Connecticut. Although he is not currently accepting private students outside of UConn, he has posted several free, online jazz piano and improvisation lessons on his website.

Clinic/Workshop Information

MacDonald has enjoyed guest conducting opportunities with a wide range of ensembles including the U.S.A.F. Airmen of Note, the BMI-New York Jazz Orchestra, the UConn Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra, university jazz ensembles at North Texas, Northern Illinois, Rutgers, the University of Manitoba, and Amherst College, as well as regional high school honor ensembles throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the MENC All-Eastern Jazz Ensemble. He works as an adjudicator and clinician at educational jazz festivals, in- service conferences, and summer camps across Canada and the United States.

Gil Evans
Bill Holman
saxophone, tenor
Thad Jones
Vince Mendoza


Concert Schedule

Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson


Outside in Music


Open Borders

Death Defying Records


Quintet Matinee

University of Connecticut


Mirror of the Mind

Death Defying Records



Death Defying Records


Echoes In The Night

Sea Breeze Jazz


Be Still, My Soul

From: Consecrated
By Earl MacDonald



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