Experimental Endeavor

Experimental Endeavor

Musician goes beyond genre conventions


When you and your band are asked to back up icon David Bowie on what would become his final album, it stands to reason the encounter will affect you for the rest of your career.

“The experience was a transformative one for me musically and personally,” shares saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose jazz quartet worked with Bowie on his 2016 album “Blackstar.” “The example he set of somebody who was uncompromising in how he realized his musical vision, somebody who was unafraid to look at different styles of music from a unique perspective … and I think somebody who was just a very deep thinker, a very creative person, will stay with me the rest of my days.”

For McCaslin, the collaboration not only influenced the shape of his last record, “Beyond Now” — released several months after Bowie’s passing — but has also inspired him to explore a new direction in his music, breaking away from his comfort zone.

“This past year, I’ve felt some shift inside myself in terms of what I was drawn to musically and what direction I wanted my music to take,” he says. “It was kind of unclear at the beginning, but I’ve just tried to nurture it and listen to it and see where it was leading me. I think this is maybe the second time in my life I’ve felt this dramatic [a] shift in where my instinct was leading me musically.

“[In] some ways, I don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out; in fact, I don’t,” he goes on. “But I have moments where certain things come together and it gets really exciting when those moments happen and they crystallize into this tangible form, and I can hear it.”

That curious spirit has become a staple of the musicians presented in the Walton Arts Center’s Starrlight Jazz Club Series. Jazz curator Robert Ginsburg makes a point of stacking the series with stirring performers, who both fit traditional conventions of the genre and discard them completely, and he says McCaslin is a particularly innovative artist.

“What may be the edgiest and most eclectic group [of the Jazz Series] is Donny McCaslin,” Ginsburg says. “You think about a jazz quartet and David Bowie saying, ‘This is the band I want,’ that really speaks to the idea of how jazz has infiltrated other music and been infiltrated by other music. [McCaslin] is undoubtedly the most modern and even experimental [music of the series], and yet from one tune to the next, it completely changes.”

The influence of alternative rock, improvisation and even electronic music — among other elements — is easily felt in McCaslin’s work, a factor he says helps his music resonate with even genre-biased listeners.

“I see myself moving into something that wouldn’t be readily described as jazz music, And I’m OK with that. because I’m just following my instinct, I’m following where I think I should be going, and I’m not thinking about what genre does this fit in so much as just trying to realize the musical vision.”

As McCaslin returns to the Walton Arts Center on Feb. 10 — his last show here was some 16 years ago — Fayetteville’s audience can expect a thrilling evening of McCaslin’s continued experimentation realized by the musical expertise of his full quartet.

“After working with [Bowie], it just started to feel like everything was possible in a way that it hadn’t seemed before,” he shares. “It seems like anything is possible, and that I think has [given] my creative imagination the freedom to follow whatever course I’m on right now.”


Donny McCaslin

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $30-$50

INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org

Categories: Music