Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
McCaslin, Donny (Donald Paul)
McCaslin, Donny (Donald Paul), tenor and soprano saxophone. also, flute, alto flute, and clarinet; b. Santa Clara, CA, 11 August 1966. His father is Donald Emmitt McCaslin born Dec. 13, 1924, his mother is Jeanina Carol (Slade) Martin born May 28, 1929, his older sister is Jean Maria Chao born July 13, 1953, his brother is Matthew Albert McCaslin born May 29, 1957 and his younger sister is Collette McCaslin born July 14, 1979. He is the son of a high school English teacher turned jazz musician. McCaslin's father, a prominent pianist and vibist, played local gigs. Donny enjoyed the music as a regular audience member long before he picked up a horn at age 12.
Donny also frequented Kuumbwa Jazz Center where nationally known artists held sway on Monday nights. During his formative years, he studied with Brad Hecht and Paul Contos, local veterans of his father's groups and accomplished players in their own rite. Meanwhile, Donny began studying formative influences John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt and Michael Brecker (today his influences run the gamut from Duke Ellington and Bill Evans to Wayne Shorter and Stan Getz to Stevie Wonder and Soundarden). By the time Donny graduated from Aptos High School, known for its prestigious jazz big band that toured Europe, he wowed local crowds with a group of similarly precocious high school musicians, played in an eight-horn salsa band and won a seat with the Monterey Jazz Festival's statewide all-star band three years running. Donny attended Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he studied with George Garzone, Joe Viola and Billy Pierce. His work eventually caught the ear of longtime Berklee faculty member vibist Gary Burton. Following his graduation, McCaslin toured with Burton for four years and gigged around Boston with his pianist, Makoto Ozone. Eventually life in the Big Apple beckoned and Donny moved there in 1991. He quickly found work with bassist Eddie Gomez, who referred him to vibist Mike Mainieri. Shortly after, Donny found himself filling the shoes of his teenage idol, Michael Brecker, in Steps Ahead, a gig he held for 3 and a half years. Since arriving in New York, McCaslin has performed with an array of players, including Steps Ahead, Danilo Perez, Maria Schneider and drummer Brian Blade (the very short list). He's also staked out some new sonic territory with Lan Xang, the cutting-edge ensemble he co-founded in 1995. At the same time, he drew on his interest in Latin music and began gigging with former Berklee School dorm-mate Perez as well as Santi DeBriano's Panamaniacs. Meanwhile, McCaslin also indulged his love of large groups with Maria Schneider's Jazz Orchestra, the Gil Evans Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band and the Newport Jazz Orchestra. In 1996, Donny played a principal solo role in composer-trumpeter Ken Schaphorst's "Uprising," a big band work that featured him alongside organist John Medeski (Medeski, Martin and Wood), pianist Uri Caine and clarinetist Doug Yates. Around 1998, Donny was jamming with alto player David Binney. The sessions eventually morphed into Lan Xang. More of an experimental collective, the group includes bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wolleson (another Santa Cruz expatriate moved to New York). While not leading his own band or playing with Lan Xang, McCaslin constantly works with others. His performing and recording credits include Pat Metheny, Billy Hart, Brian Blade, Fernando Tarres and the Arida Conta Group, William Cepeda and Afrorican Jazz, Rachel Z, George Gruntz, Luis Bonilla, Hector Martignon, Roberta Picket, Eric Mingus, the New York Voices and Bill Sims. He's also loaned his tenor work to solo recordings by fellow Lan Xangbandmates Colley and Binney.
Exile and Discovery (1998); Seen From Above (2000); Seen From Above (2000); Lan Xang: Hidden Gardens (2000)
Ken Shaphorst: When the Moon Jumps (1994); Steps Ahead (and Various Artists): Jazz To The World (1995); Steps Ahead: Vibe (1995); David Binney: The Luxury of Guessing (1995); Hector Martignon: Portrait in Black and White (1996); Scott Colley: Portable Universe (1997); Fernando Tarres: The Outsider (1997); Roberta Piket: Unbroken Line (1997); Ken Schaphorst: Uprising (1998); David Binney: Free To Dream (1998); William Cepeda: My Roots and Beyond (1998); George Gruntz and the Concert Jazz Band: Merryteria (1999), Liebermann (1999); Hector Martignon: The Foreign Affair (2000); Luis Bonilla: Escucha (2000)