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Take Five with Mike Casey

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About Mike Casey
Saxophonist, songwriter, and teaching artist Mike Casey has been a fixture on the Hartford jazz scene and beyond since 2011, when he began attending the acclaimed Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford's Hartt School. In 2015, Mike was one of 24 young jazz composers worldwide chosen by Jason Moran to participate in the prestigious "Betty Carter Jazz Ahead" Program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC where he studied with an all-star faculty including Eric Harland, JD Allen, Eric Revis, Cyrus Chestnut, and Jason Moran.

After a sold out NYC debut at the Minton's in Harlem in September 2016, Mike went on to accomplish an incredible feat: the crowdfunding campaign for his debut album The Sound of Surprise: Live at The Side Door (Self Published, 2017) reached 125% funded. His resume includes appearances with Charles Tolliver, DJ Logic, Brandee Younger, Zaccai Curtis, Tarus Mateen and Marc Cary, whose project "The Harlem Sessions" features Mike as an original member.

Sound of Surprise has gone on to receive international airplay, press, and sales, including a 14 city album release tour throughout the Northeast USA.

Alto & tenor saxophone.

Teachers and/or influences?
Every music teacher I've had has made a big impact—in particular Abraham Burton, Steve Davis, Nat Reeves, Rene McLean, Javon Jackson, Eric McPherson, JD Allen, Paul Brown, Jason Moran.

Influences really span the entire history of jazz saxophone but I think the influences you hear most in my playing are Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Jackie McLean, Gary Bartz (alto) and Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Don Byas.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
My first week at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. It was my first time being around musicians my age who really wanted this music.

Your sound and approach to music.
For sound I've been thinking a lot about onion rings, actually. Crispy and salty on the outside, warm and flexible on the inside. That's what I want to sound like—the "outside" of my tone to have edge and definition—"crispy"—and the core of the sound to be warm and flexible.

I think of music in levels. I do my best to put rhythm, melody, dynamics, phrasing, space, storytelling, emotion, connection of ideas and motific development first.

Your teaching approach
I do my best to guide and not spoon feed them this music, as that actually does the student a disservice. I really believe that to be successful in any artistic endeavor you need cognition and intution, and a lot of curiosity... and if I supply all the information without making them search, they don't develop either.

Your dream band
That's a great question. Dream band (living, of course)... Chick Corea on piano, Josh Evans on trumpet, Eric McPherson on drums, and Ron Carter on bass.

Favorite venue
Easily The Side Door in Old Lyme, CT. It's really 100% about the music there—the owner Ken Kitchings is a great spirit who accomplished his lifelong dream of building a state of the art jazz club.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
Emotion, honesty, rhythm, and melody.

Did you know...
That at one point, I was dead set on making the NBA? I only started to take saxophone more seriously once I was cut from my freshman basketball team in high school.

The first jazz album I bought was:
Sonny Rollins' Tenor Madness!

Music you are listening to now:
I was just revisiting B.B. King's Live from Cook County Jail the other day. So much pocket...

Desert Island picks:
Hank Mobley: Soul Station
Jackie McLean: Dynasty
Sonny Rollins: St Thomas Live in Stockholm
Miles Davis: Live at The Blackhawk
Abraham Burton/Eric McPherson: Cause & Effect

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
It's in a very interesting place. Very splintered but I guess it's been that way since the late '50s... I think it's fantastic that many more people my age (non-musicians) are discovering this music through cats that have crossed-over like Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper. I think it's also really important to note that the gatekeepers are basically gone—anyone can put an album out—and that's a beautiful thing. I have to image with all the great music coming out in the '50s/'60s that there had to be a bunch of musicians that never got heard simply because they never got a record deal.


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