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Don Braden

Don Braden Biography

“One of the new young lions of the tenor saxophone.” — Roy Haynes, drummer

“. . . brilliant and assured . . .” — Peter Watrous, The New York Times

“Don Braden creates accessible music built atop the pillars of wit, honesty, swing, and heart, and delivers music that alternately cooks, calms, struts, and soars.”

– Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz

Don Braden is a musician of the highest caliber. Having spent years as the saxophonist with greats like Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and Roy Haynes, he has developed an extensive knowledge of every aspect of Jazz performance. He is an imaginative, technically excellent, soulful saxophonist, and his harmonic and rhythmic sophistication give him a unique approach to improvising as well as composing and arranging. Most important of all: he has a beautiful sound, and he swings! All this combines with his joyous yet disciplined personality to make him one of the most important young musicians working today.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 20, 1963, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Braden’s first exposure to music came from his parents’ record collection, and from radio. Although there were no musicians in his family, he showed a strong interest in music early on. At age 13, he started playing tenor sax in middle school band class, and two years later, joined his first professional band — influenced by and performing the music of “contemporary Jazz” groups, like The Crusaders. After being introduced to acoustic Jazz in high school by educator Jamey Aebersold, Braden went on to be chosen first chair for the McDonald’s All-American High School Jazz Band and the McDonald’s All-American High School Marching Band, and to receive a Yamaha Instrument Award (given to an outstanding All-American Band member).

After his acceptance to Harvard University in 1981, Braden divided his time between studying engineering and performing at Jazz clubs around the Boston/Cambridge area. While there, he studied briefly with local saxophone heavyweights Jerry Bergonzi and Bill Pierce. He also began composing more seriously during this time, writing and arranging pieces for several Harvard-based dance, film and music projects as well as for his own quartet.

In 1984, Braden moved to New York City where his first gigs were with the Harper Brothers Quintet and with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, and then with Betty Carter. After touring with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet for over seven months, he recorded with Betty Carter on her Grammy Award-winning album, “Look What I Got” (Verve-Polygram). Following gigs in Europe, Japan and the Americas with Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, and many others, Braden was a member of the Freddie Hubbard Quintet from 1989 to 1991, then the Tom Harrell groups from 1993 through 1997. Since then he has worked with the Mingus Big Band, Kenny Barron, J. J. Johnson, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and others, as well as with his own groups.

Braden has released 19 CDs as a leader or co-leader, starting with “The Time is Now” in 1991. His most recent CD, Luminosity, was released in September 2015 to critical acclaim and excellent radio response. His previous CDs, “Full Circle” and “Come Together” feature collaborations with stellar vocalists Vanessa Rubin and Julie Michels, respectively. On “Big Fun(k) Live”, co-led with acclaimed drummer Karl Latham, Braden revisits his Jazz/Funk roots. He soars through the music like a true Jazzman, but the context is highly funky! His other CDs run the gamut of straight ahead Jazz, with a variety of tight, grooving ensembles, engaging arrangements and rich original compositions. His list of sidemen reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz: bassists Christian McBride, Dwayne Burno & Joris Teepe, pianists Benny Green, Julian Joseph, Kenny Werner and Darrell Grant, drummers Carl Allen, Cecil Brooks III, Jeff “Tain” Watts & Billy Hart, saxophonists David “Fathead” Newman, Vincent Herring, and Dave Liebman, trumpeters Terell Stafford, Tom Harrell & Randy Brecker, trombonists Steve Turre and Conrad Herwig, organists Jack McDuff, Kyle Koehler & Larry Goldings, and guitarists Dave Stryker and Russell Malone among many others.

In addition to performing and composing for his own groups and CDs, Don Braden has composed for a number of important projects. He spent four years as co-music supervisor/composer for the CBS sitcom, “Cosby”, and composed music for Nickelodeon’s “Fatherhood”. Braden is the proud recipient of a Doris Duke Foundation (in conjunction with Chamber Music America) Jazz composition grant, which funded the creation of “The Soaring Spirit”, a one-hour suite for his Octet. He has written a number of big band charts and has composed or arranged several pieces for full symphonic orchestra. He and Joris Teepe co-composed “Vox Populi Mundi”, which they premiered in 2006 with the North Netherlands Orchestra in a performance for Queen Beatrix (the reigning queen of Holland at the time). In 2012, he and Mr. Teepe co-composed and premiered the piece “Work, Work, Work” for a full symphonic Jazz orchestra performance in the Netherlands, conducted by John Clayton.

Braden is a passionate and highly experienced educator. He recently completed a three year interim appointment as Guest Conductor of the Harvard Monday Jazz Band (in which he played as a Harvard undergraduate). He also worked for two years as Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Montclair State University. For over 17 years he has served as Music Director of the renowned Litchfield Jazz Camp, and for 15 years was the Music Director of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens program. He is also a visiting professor in the “New York Comes to Groningen” program at the Prins Claus Conservatoire, in Groningen, Netherlands.

Don endorses R.S. Berkeley saxophones and flutes, and the Sonare alto flute. He also endorses SONAR music production software, AMT Microphones, and Jamey Aebersold play-a-long products.

As a saxophonist, composer, arranger, and educator, Don Braden will continue to represent the highest levels of strength, creativity, discipline, joy, and soulfulness as he moves along the classic Jazz path: to express a contemporary point of view in the powerful, spiritual, intelligent, and (most importantly) swinging Jazz style.

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