Dayna Stephens is globally recognized as a saxophonist, composer and arranger, and is the first place recipient of the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll in the category Rising Star—Tenor Saxophone.
His highly anticipated 10th album, Right Now! Live at the Village Vanguard, was released on October 3, 2020 and features Aaron Parks, Ben Street, and Greg Hutchinson. Earlier in 2020 he released his 9th album, Liberty, to critical acclaim. It is his first trio recording that features Ben Street and Eric Harland. Both 2020 albums were produced by Matt Pierson and released on Dayna’s own label, Contagious Music.
NPR’s Kevin Whitehead had this to say about Liberty, “Dayna Stephens can cry and rip it up on tenor, but at heart, he’s a streamlined melodic player. His handsome down-the-middle tone is not too heavy or light, though he can lean either way. His sound is sleek, with very light vibrato. And the lines he improvises are uncluttered and well-organized. His horn sings”. J. Hunter of Nippertown says, “Stephens’ latest outing—recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s history-filled studio—delivers an elegant, uncompromising look at how less can definitely be more.” In describing Liberty’s trio format Jay N. Miller from The Patriot Ledger applauds, “while the concept may seem esoteric, the triumph of Stephens’ latest work ishow accessible and even intoxicating it is.”
Playing with pureness of intention, Dayna admits he’s always searching to find what’s “singable”. That search often results in live improvisations and written compositions that challenge traditional concepts of harmony, pushing phrasing and sending beautiful and unintentional melodies in unlikely directions. Dayna’s soulful lines have resonated through the halls of such internationally renowned venues as the Village Vanguard, Blue Note Jazz Club, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Birdland, Yoshi’s, The Blue Whale, Marians Jazzroom in Switzerland, Blue Note Milano, Philharmonie de Paris, Le Duc des Lombards, Red Rocks and San Francisco Jazz Center.
Rhythmic dialogue excites the Brooklyn-born, Bay Area-raised artist, as both an improviser and a written composer. His creative expression leads him to uncover different rhythmic interpretations of harmonic ideas as part of a spontaneous interchange with other players. These arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s The Duke and his own piece Haden’s Largo (for Charlie Haden) that premiered at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre for its 2013 Celebration of the Music of Dave Brubeck Concert.
A graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, where he studied under artistic icons Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Dayna began his formal studies with a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He currently teaches at Manhattan School of Music and William Paterson University in Wayne New Jersey. As an undergraduate, he was diagnosed with the rare kidney disease focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) which resulted in a six-year course of dialysis that began in 2009, grounding him in the New York area and preventing him from touring internationally until he received a kidney transplant in October 2015 from a donation chain facilitated by his aunt. Aside from his own projects Dayna’s label Contagious Music released Yekum, by pianist/composer Eden Ladin's, which was his debut recording released in 2018 and Pluto Juice a co-led group with Anthony Fung that features Dayna mostly on EWI released July 2021.
Audio excerpt: Ran from Right Now! Live at The Village Vanguard - The Dayna Stephens quartet
Photo credit: Chris Drukker
The 'Reference 36' features a rich and open tone, in the wake of the 'Balanced Action' made from 1936 onwards.