reviews & interviews

Dayna Stephens Downbeat InterviewFacing Illness, An Improviser
Learns The Art Of Patience

NPR: A Blog Supreme
by John Murph, July 02, 2013

Dayna Stephens is a patient musician. The 34-year-old tenor saxophonist and composer fashions supple, searching improvisations that brim with melodic cogency. His compositions often exude a widescreen sensibility with languid, narrative-like passages, suspenseful interludes and sumptuous harmonies.

“When I’m playing, I’m really trying to make something new happen. It often happens by playing unintentional notes,” Stephens says via Skype from his Paterson, N.J., home on a late May afternoon, hours before he joins pianist at New York’s Smalls jazz club for a gig. “I always try to come up with something singable.” He says he loves jazz musicians like and pianist , who often play in a more languid, pensive manner. “That could be interpreted as being more mature and more patient-sounding,” he says.

But Stephens isn’t just patient on the bandstand. He’s had to amend his approach to playing due to focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a rare kidney disease; Stephens has been on dialysis since October 2009.
» read full interview @ NPR

Dayna Stephens Downbeat InterviewDayna Stephens: Rising Protégé
Interview – Downbeat Magazine

San Francisco-based tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens
learned a lot about composing, first from mentors Wayne Shorter
and Terence Blanchard.
“Wayne helped me realize how important melody is,” Stephens said. “The way he took a melody and developed it before coming up with harmonies established the importance of melody. Terence helped me learn to make each composition distinctive while maintaining my own voice.”
» read full interview (pdf)

“on Juju, Parlato brings in guest saxophonist Dayna Stephens to play the role of Shorter – the results are nothing short of stunning.”
— Brent Faulkner, “The Lost And Found” cd review

“Wayne Shorter’s Juju is given Shorteresque smokiness by Dayna Stephens’s tenor sax”
— John Fordham, “The Lost And Found” cd review, The Guardian

NPR: Top 10 Jazz Jewels of 2007, from WDUQ
The Timeless Now, Dayna Stephens
Song: Beginning Of An Endless Happy Monday
by Shaunna Morrison Machosky

Dayna Stephens is a notable young (well, under 30) saxophonist deserving of wider recognition. His fresh compositions don’t rely as much on fancy flourishes as the use of space and restraint — even when he burns through a song. Fans of John Scofield should enjoy the three tracks on which he appears, including this one, Beginning of an Endless Happy Monday.
» read article @ NPR

Dayna Stephens: The Timeless Now – #11 Billboard Magazine

Dayna Stephens: The Timeless Now – 4 stars
Downbeat Magazine

Tenorist Stephens emerges as an artist full of composure and imagination.Seven of the nine tunes are his, with arrangements that keep the listener engaged. Basically a standard quartet, with Taylor Eigsti on piano and Rhodes, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Ben Street, the band is augmented by guitarist John Scofield on three cuts and trombonist Nick Vayenas on one. Stephens has a sure and robust sound, with a style that moves in and out of the music more than drives or dominates. Standouts include the ballads “Teeth” and “The Lost and Found.”
» download PDF article

Dayna Stephens — The Timeless Now
By Bill Meredith, JazzTimes

“Also an acoustic bassist, Dayna Stephens has a knowledge of rhythm that most sax players don’t even think is necessary. He doesn’t rush. Stephens, 29, graduated from the Thelonious Monk Institute four years ago and apprenticed with Roy Hargrove, Steve Coleman and Stefon Harris before releasing his solo debut, The Timeless Now. Stephens’ phrasing, impressive youthful band and open mind are all characteristics that Scofield learned while with Miles Davis, meaning this timely debut may signal the birth of a new cool.”
» read review

Dayna Stephens — The Timeless Now
by Michael G. Nastos, AllMusic

“Dayna Stephens is a contemporary jazz tenor saxophonist whose sound is roundly hailed as warm, effusive, and sophisticated… in the neo-bop post-Michael Brecker tradition, Stephens has come out of the gate with a collection of original modern mainstream compositions backed by some established heavyweights of American music to support him.”
» read review

Dayna Stephens – The Timeless Now
By Jim Santella, All About Jazz

This modern mainstream performance centers on his warm tenor saxophone conversations – the disc has variety as well as creativity. When the leader or one of his partners step out, the groove gets under your skin and into your bones, revealing an intuitive love for communicating with serenity and lyricism.”
» read review

The Timeless Now by Dayna Stephens
Arts & Humanities,
By Jesse Starita

In jazz, artists usually craft their finest work 20, 30 and even 40 years into a musical career. Indeed, it’s an art form that rewards patience and stamina and rarely reflects frivolous fads. Be that as it may, anomalies still persist. Enter Dayna Stephens.

At just 29, Stephens already possesses a potent musical maturity, channeled through his tenor saxophone. His debut, The Timeless Now, is never hurried, strikingly melodic and highly innovative, as Stephens glides through seven originals and two standards. Joining him are pianist Taylor Eigsti, drummer Eric Harland, bassist Ben Street, trombonist Nick Vagenas and esteemed guitarist John Scofield.

Born Aug. 1, 1978, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Stephens grew up in Oakland and began playing saxophone at age 13. His primary influences were Charlie Rouse, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. But in the intervening 16 years – three of which were spent studying at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute in Southern California – Stephens has developed a warm, alluring tone. Of course, studying under Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Terrence Blanchard didn’t hurt that growth.

But throughout his debut, Stephens merges a scholarly approach with solid improvisation. On “Smoking Gun,” Scofield abandons his regular distorted tone for a cleaner, more traditional sound. After Street states the melody, both guitarist and leader launch into a buoyant, inspired conversation. Scofield’s shining tone is a welcome accompaniment to Stephens’ warmth. However, the tranquil tracks are a better showcase of the album’s compositional aesthetic. “Teeth” is the harmonious high point of the album, thanks in large part to Eigsti’s use of the Fender Rhodes. The album does rely heavily on slower, more melodic pieces. However, “On The Trail,” evokes the swinging side and serves as a reminder to jazz’s inimitable rhythm.

Again, it’s a welcome change to hear such maturity from younger (save Scofield) jazz musicians. Let’s hope Mr. Stephens continues the maturation process. He’s off to a great start.