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Dan Wilensky

Saxophonist, composer and author Dan Wilensky was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and moved to Berkeley 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. As a teenager, he street played, performed with schoolmates Benny Green, Craig Handy 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 lazz 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,” Wilensky recalls. After six months with Ray, a brief stint at Eastman, and six months with Brother Jack McDuff, he moved to New York.

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