A Young Saxophonist Channels His Inner Jedi, With Music, For International Star Wars Day

May 4, 2017

Credit Colorado Symphony

As you probably know if you spend any time online, today, May 4, is International Star Wars Day. It's a celebration rooted in a pun: "May the Fourth be with you." [Wookiee groan]

There hasn't often been a jazz angle to this special date, but one young saxophonist is giving it a shot, by releasing a video for a tune he calls "Dagobah." (If that place name doesn't ring a bell, this story's not for you.)

The saxophonist is Mike Casey, who was born and raised in Connecticut, and graduated from the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz. His experience in that program — part of the Hartt School at the University of Hartford — is what inspired him to compose "Dagobah," a reference to the swamp planet where young Luke Skywalker meets Yoda and trains to fulfill his destiny as a Jedi, in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. (There is no connection here, alas, to Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes, known to the less-obsessive Star Wars fans among us as the Cantina Band.)

A near-ballad with a motoring triplet motif in the bass, "Dagobah" reaches for the misterioso mood of its namesake, with its stark trees and swirling fog. The video features Casey's trio — with Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Corey Garcia on drums — at The Side Door, a noted jazz club in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It was there that Casey recorded his most recent album, The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door.

Casey doesn't say outright who his Yoda was, but he did study with saxophonists René McLean, Javon Jackson and Abraham Burton, as well as trombonist Steve Davis and bassist Nat Reeves. (Later, as part of the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center, he encountered other heavyweights, like pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Jason Moran.)

Owen McNally, a seasoned jazz writer in Connecticut, profiled Casey for WNPR in advance of his gig at the Side Door last year. You can catch the saxophonist today at Lincoln Center's David Rubinstein Atrium, as part of a contingent led by pianist Marc Cary. (The show, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7:30 p.m.) Casey will also perform on Friday in Avon, Connecticut, and at the Passages Art Gallery in Hartford on May 20. For more information, visit his website.

May the Fourth be with you.

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