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Donny McCaslin: The Gig of a Lifetime

Saxophonist Donny McCaslin reflects on the profound influence of an unlikely collaborator, David Bowie

Donny McCaslin (photo by Jimmy King)
Donny McCaslin (photo by Jimmy King)
Donny McCaslin in performance at 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival (photo by Stuart Brinin)

Donny McCaslin’s latest disc, Beyond Now (Motéma), contains colossal emotional weight. The tenor saxophonist composed the album’s original music in the summer of 2015, several months after working on what would become David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar. Given that McCaslin’s bandmates—keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana—also participated in the Blackstar sessions, it’s not surprising that Bowie’s influence saturates Beyond Now. “[Blackstar] was still swimming inside my head,” McCaslin confirms. “But there are other things too. I got deeply into Deadmau5’ while(1<2), a lot of Aphex Twin and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Those are the other main influences, besides Bowie.”

In one of the cruelest ironies in rock history, Blackstar was released on Jan. 8, 2016—Bowie’s 69th birthday—and the icon died of liver cancer two days later. McCaslin and company recorded Beyond Now just three months after Bowie’s death. “Making Blackstar was such a profound experience for all of us. I wanted that same level of emotional gravitas to come through on Beyond Now,” McCaslin says.

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