Seven Questions with Saxophonist Brett McDonald

Brett McDonald headshotNBJP: Other than the instrument you play, instrument would you like to be able to play?

BMcD: I’d really like to play the guitar – the whole string family of instruments has been difficult for me to comprehend and learn, and every time I pick up a guitar I end up giving up shortly thereafter. Playing that instrument comes with this whole aesthetic of just rocking out, and I really enjoy that idea of being able to turn up without any physical effort involved to increase the volume.

NBJP:      How old were you when you first played in front of an audience (beyond your family)?

BMcD: I think I was about eleven years old – I played “The Pink Panther” for my elementary school talent contest. Its an entertaining story – I didn’t know the piece well enough to compensate for the nerves, so ultimately I got lost and found myself improvising to make up for it. Then I made my way back to the melody. I guess I was playing jazz before I even knew what it was!

NBJP:      What’s your favorite city to play in?

BMcD: I still have a strong affinity for performing in Denton, TX. Its the city where The University of North Texas is located, and you find hundreds of music students who really have a deep and meaningful appreciation for the artform – and are wholly engaged in the music in the moment. I think that is something very rare among live music scenes around the world.

NBJP:     What musician influenced you the most?

BMcD: When I was  in school, I definitely tried to avoid the main direct influences of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane that all the other saxophone students have. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the years that I worshiped Michael Brecker, but in terms of direct influence, trumpeter Clifford Brown really takes the cake. His lyricism, virtuosity, integrity and honesty are all things I wish to bring out in my own performances.

NBJP:  What’s your favorite jazz tune?

BMcD: I adore playing the standard “There Will Never Be Another You”, by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It covers all the diatonic harmony of the scale, and allows for a lot of freedom in terms of substitutions and alterations. It is just such a flexible song with a recognizable form that when you play with it’s boundaries, the tune still remains intact.

NBJP:  What’s your favorite (non-musical) (G-rated) pastime? 

BMcD: I’m an avid alpine scrambler whenever I’m near mountains. Its essentially a mix between climbing and hiking, where all the challenging passages can be climbed without ropes, but by no means are they leisurely hikes. I like the sport because you get a huge sense of accomplishment when you reach the top, but more than that, the whole experience is a great metaphor for living a fulfilling life. Setting goals and working towards them, but enjoying the journey to get there – which is the most important part anyways. It passes the time, and when you get to see the surrounding peaks, you can’t help but feel proud of yourself for having come so far.

NBJP:  If you could only own one CD, what would it be?

BMcD: A tough question, but I’d probably go with Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. It is one of those timeless classics that never gets old. 

PLUS ONE: When did you know you wanted to be a professional jazz musician?

BMcD: This is another tough question – I wouldn’t necessarily pigeonhole myself as a “jazz musician”, as I perform and feel comfortable in several different genres and styles, but I can say that around junior year of my Jazz Studies degree at North Texas I started writing my own music, and the confidence and fulfillment I derived from that led me to believe that I could really make this passion of mine into a career.


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