Episode Guest

Donny McCaslin


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Episode Description

By Curtis Killian | February 10, 2016

When Donny McCasslin '88 and his jazz quartet were enlisted by David Bowie H'99 to record as the backing band for what became his 25th and final album Blackstar, stylized as ★, the Grammy-nominated saxophonist, composer and bandleader was ready for the moment.

"David encouraged us to try anything and everything that we heard," McCaslin says on the three weeks he spent working with Bowie and his longtime producer Tony Visconti early last year, recordingmostly live with his group (keyboardist Jason Lindner, drummer Mark Guiliana and bassist Tim Lefebvre). "He said something to me in the beginning like, Donny, I don’t know what’s gonna happen with this but let’s just have some fun."

A fixture of the New York Jazz scene for nearly thirty years, McCaslin has worked as bandleader and as sideman for the likes of Steps Ahead, Maria Schneider Orchestra and professor fellow alumnus Gary Burton '62, who he began touring with his senior year. "Being at Berklee and thrust into this world where the boundaries of music or styles were pretty fluid, that was really a great experience to help me to broaden my musical language," McCaslin says, a dexterity clearly displayed through his various contributions on Blackstar as musician, bandleader and orchestrator.

"I’m grateful to have been able to be in that space for a prolonged amount of time in relation to the jazz world," McCaslin says. "The joy on David’s face when we would have that take and felt it, everybody was feeling that it was the take and seeing the joy on his face was very moving to me. It was beautiful."

In this episode of Life After Berklee, just weeks after the album's release and shock of Bowie's death, McCaslin shares insight into the recording process and how he and his jazz quartet from New York City became David Bowie’s final backing band.


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