Don Braden Full Biography
(full length, rev. October 2021)
A world-class saxophonist, flutist, composer and educator, Don Braden’s jazz career has spanned over 40 years. He has toured the world with jazz greats Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Haynes, and many others, and has performed in venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall, Saturday Night Live, Harvard University (where he studied Engineering as an undergrad), and countless jazz festivals and clubs. He has played on over 100 CDs as a sideman and has produced 23 as a leader, the most recent being his critically acclaimed Earth Wind and Wonder and the recently released In the Spirit of Herbie Hancock and Chemiatry, co-led with bassist Joris Teepe.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 20, 1963, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Braden’s first exposure to music came from his parents’ record collection, and from radio. Although there were no musicians in his family, he showed a strong interest in music early on. At age 13, he started playing tenor sax in middle school band class, and two years later, joined his first professional band — influenced by and performing the music of “contemporary Jazz” groups like The Crusaders. After being introduced to acoustic jazz in high school by band director Ernie Sanders, Braden studied for years with saxophonist Mike Tracy and also attended Jamey Aebersold’s Summer Jazz Workshops. He went on to be chosen first chair for the McDonald’s All-American High School Jazz and Marching Bands, and to receive a Yamaha Instrument Award (given to an outstanding All-American Band member).
After his acceptance to Harvard University in 1981, Braden divided his time between studying engineering and performing at jazz clubs around the Boston/Cambridge area and with the Harvard Jazz Bands. In 1984, he took time off from Harvard to more deeply explore jazz (and some engineering) in the “real world” of New York City. While working part-time as a computer programmer, he landed his first gigs with the Harper Brothers Quintet, with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, and then with legendary vocalist Betty Carter. After touring with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet for over seven months, he recorded with Betty Carter on her Grammy Award-winning album, “Look What I Got” (Verve-Polygram). Following tours in Europe, Japan and the Americas with Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, and many others, Braden became a member of the Freddie Hubbard Quintet from 1989 to 1991, then the Tom Harrell groups from 1993 through 1997. Since then he has worked with the Mingus Big Band, Kenny Barron, J. J. Johnson, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and many others, as well as with his own groups.
Braden’s latest CD, Chemistry (co-led with Joris Teepe), is the second recording of the Trio of Liberty. Joris and Don formed this group as a way to explore a more open style of jazz improvisation, with no chordal instruments and with remarkable guest drummers. The previous Trio album, Conversations, featured Matt Wilson and Gene Jackson. This one features Jeff “Tain” Watts and the legendary Louis Hayes. His CD Earth Wind and Wonder, released in 2018, features his quartets performing jazz interpretations of songs by R&B titans Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder. It stayed on the national airplay charts for 5 months, peaking at #2. He has released 20 previous CDs as a leader or co-leader, starting with The Time is Now in 1991. His list of sidemen reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz: bassists Christian McBride, Dwayne Burno & Joris Teepe, pianists Benny Green, Julian Joseph, Kenny Werner and Darrell Grant, drummers Carl Allen, Cecil Brooks III, Jeff “Tain” Watts & Billy Hart, saxophonists David “Fathead” Newman, Vincent Herring, and Dave Liebman, trumpeters Terell Stafford, Tom Harrell & Randy Brecker, trombonists Steve Turre and Conrad Herwig, organists Jack McDuff, Kyle Koehler & Larry Goldings, and guitarists Dave Stryker and Russell Malone among many others.
Braden has composed over 150 pieces for ensembles ranging from duo to full symphonic orchestra, including an orchestral performance/commission for Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, 25 big band charts and over 100 songs for smaller jazz groups. His compositions appear on dozens of CDs, and several major TV shows and indie films. He has received the Doris Duke Foundation New Works composer’s award, and has served on adjudication panels for that foundation, SURDNA, the Downbeat Student Music Awards, and others.
A highly experienced educator, Braden is currently the Director of the Harvard Jazz Combo Initiative, teaches part-time at the Prins Claus Conservatoire in the Netherlands, and has been the Music Director of the Litchfield Jazz Camp since 1998. He ran NJPAC’s Wells Fargo Jazz For Teens Program for 15 years, the jazz program at Montclair State University for several years, and led the Harvard University Monday Jazz Band for three years. Don believes that jazz is a great music style to study, because it reflects so many important aspects of life, including creativity, discipline, teamwork, leadership, listening skills, democracy, supportiveness and improvisation.
Don Braden has had several articles published over the years, including “Take Excellent Care: Health and Fitness for Musicians”, in the June 2018 issue of Downbeat magazine.
For more info, see www.DonBraden.com