Last Thursday, world-renowned saxophonist Donny McCaslin, accompanied by his virtuosi band Casting for Gravity (consisting of pianist/keyboardist Henry Hey, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana) performed alongside Knox’s Jazz Ensemble and Cherry Street Combo at the second annual Jerome Mirza Jazz Residency in Harbach Theatre. The performance culminated McCaslin’s week-long jazz residency during which he led vigorous workshops for the jazz ensemble. Despite his prestige, McCaslin led his workshops with remarkable humbleness.
“The first time I met Donny was before rehearsal. We all ate lunch with him, got to know more of him as a person. It was a friendly approach from the start,” says senior Lily Gaetgaeow. “During the sax quartet, we ran through the chart, with Donny throwing ideas and suggestions about our playing.”
Despite being the honored guest of Thursday’s performance, McCaslin happily shared the spotlight with students. As the students’ spirited improvisations and solos filled Harbach Theatre, it became clear that McCaslin wanted to exhibit the students’ creative energy as much as his own.
He also interjected the performance with affable humor. At one point, he even asked the audience to participate in his creative process: “I have a record coming out early next year, and I am desperately in need of song titles Ñ so I might ask you for a little help. If you have any ideas after the concert, we can talk.”
The eclectic group of professional and student musicians successfully shared their powerful groove of creative, melodic and modern music, and the audience responded ecstatically to the entire performance.
“He is phenomenal Ñ I [loved] it so much É I like how creative jazz is, and how it makes me want to move,” freshman Paige McDaniel remarked after the show.
Before leaving for his upcoming New York tour, McCaslin reflected on his experience at Knox: “The thing that [stood] out to me [was] the vibe here amongst the students that I worked with. They were present, interested, engaged, inquisitive and a pleasure to work with.