Born August 11, 1966, Donny McCaslin grew up in Santa Cruz, CA. Inspired by his father, a pianist and vibraphonist, McCaslin started playing tenor saxophone at age twelve and progressed quickly, touring Europe and participating in the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival, California All-Star band while in high school. After attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he joined Berklee professor Gary Burton's quintet, with whom he toured for four years.
McCaslin moved to New York in 1991, working with bassist Eddie Gomez before joining the group Steps Ahead, with whom he made the 1995 disc Vibe (NYC Records). Around the same time, he collaborated with fellow New York saxophonist David Binney, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wolleson, in the piano-less quartet Lan Xang.
McCaslin really began turning heads with his solo work in larger ensembles, first with Ken Schaphorst big band, and subsequently with the acclaimed Maria Schneider Orchestra, where his performance on the album Concert In The Garden garnered McCaslin a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo in 2004.
In 2005, McCaslin joined the quintet led by the widely lionized trumpeter Dave Douglas. Reviewing the Douglas Quintet in Jazz Times, Josef Woodard wrote of McCaslin: "a versatile player who moves easily between inside and outside musical zones. There's a fluidity and grace to his playing even when he's pushing at envelopes."
In the last few years, McCaslin has achieved wide praise for the incisive twists and purposeful turns of his emotionally charged solos, but those qualities along with his distinctive voice as a composer have actually been on display for much of the previous decade, during which McCaslin recorded eight albums as a leader, collaborating with a wide range of musicians, including David Binney, Johnathan Blake, Scott Colley, Ben Monder, Antonio Sanchez and Edward Simon.
In 2008 and 2009, McCaslin won the Downbeat Critics poll for Rising Star on the Tenor Saxophone. His 2008 release, Recommended Tools, on Greenleaf Music was in many critics top ten lists for jazz record of the year, and in 2009, McCaslin released Declaration on Sunnyside, which features a brass quartet.