Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Before & After: Dayna Stephens

The saxophonist gives thanks to colleagues, mentors, and heroes in this listening session

Dayna Stephens
Dayna Stephens (photo: Alan Nahigian)

There’s a tune called “Clouds” on Gratitude—saxophonist Dayna Stephens’ ninth and latest album, from 2017—that captures his personality well. Serene on the surface, it opens with a breathy tenor line that soon digs deeper, achieving a high level of complexity with juxtaposed layers of synthesizer as Eric Harland’s brushes chatter and comment. When the tune dissipates one is left with a sense of reassurance, like an encouraging hand on one’s shoulder.

Many bandleaders have found the same balance of sophistication and surprise in Stephens’ sound and put it to good use, pianists Kenny Barron, Gerald Clayton, and Taylor Eigsti among them, as well as trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. The New York Times has hailed his “judicious exuberance,” and the credits on Gratitude are a measure of the respect he’s earned among his peers; besides Harland, it features Brad Mehldau, Julian Lage, and Larry Grenadier.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.

Ashley Kahn

Ashley Kahn is a Grammy-winning American music historian, journalist, producer, and professor. He teaches at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, and has written books on two legendary recordings—Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane—as well as one book on a legendary record label: The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. He also co-authored the Carlos Santana autobiography The Universal Tone, and edited Rolling Stone: The Seventies, a 70-essay overview of that pivotal decade.