The first questions asked upon introducing a musician to a new group of people tend to revolve around “what style of music do you play?” or “how many members are in your band?” The expectation that artists should reserve themselves exclusively to honing one craft or style, usually at the expense of exploration, discovery, and innovation is one that Dan O’Brien strives to defy at every turn in his lifelong musical journey. Rather than settle for one style or process of creative output, he tirelessly works to explore, perceive, and understand creative endeavors from musicians of all backgrounds as well as creative thinkers across all disciplines, from the arts to the sciences.
Born in 1990, Dan O’Brien discovered a joy of sound and music throughout his early childhood listening to film scores and his parents’ CD collection. At the age of nine he picked up his father’s tenor saxophone, taking advantage of all the opportunities he could find in the Canton, CT public school instrumental music program, while starting on a journey into the world of improvisation by listening to his first musical idols, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins, and composing short pieces that he would record with friends around town. By high school he was studying with local jazz educator John Mills and writing arrangements for the Canton High School jazz combo and big band, in which he was also playing saxophone and clarinet.
Dan’s education continued at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT, where he earned the Bachelor of Science in Music Education degree in May 2012. He also completed the BM Jazz Studies coursework and took advantage of the broad experience of the school’s faculty, studying saxophone with Dan Goble, Andrew Beals, and Javier Oviedo, composition with Kevin Jay Isaacs and Jamie Begian, clarinet with Paul Garment and Jo-Ann Sternberg, and flute with Dave Noland. As a standout student in the jazz program, he had opportunities to learn from and perform with master guest artists throughout his time at WestConn, including having his big band arrangement of “Joy Spring” critiqued by Maria Schneider, opening for Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, and participating in masterclasses and performances with Benny Golson, Rich Perry, Dave Liebman, John Scofield, Robert Glasper, Rufus Reid, and Dafnis Prieto.
Following WestConn, Dan pursued graduate studies at the University of North Texas, earning the Master of Music in Jazz Studies degree in May 2014, with a concentration in Composition and Arranging. Two years of dedicated study with Rich DeRosa allowed him to explore many compositional media and expand his concept and output beyond standard classifications of genre. His master’s recital included a range of work from arrangements of jazz standards to original compositions incorporating free improvisation, an original narrated setting of Connie Wanek’s poem “After Us” for small wind ensemble to a passacaglia treatment of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” for chamber orchestra. In March 2014, his arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" was performed at Carnegie Hall by Chris Washburne's SYOTOS Band as one of three winners of the Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange "Arranging Ellington" competition. Beyond these accomplishments, his studies with John Murphy along with access to the enormous music collection at the UNT Willis Library allowed Dan to expand his musical conceptions through in-depth exploration of music by Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Igor Stravinsky, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Corigliano, Duke Ellington, George Lewis, George Russell, Henry Threadgill, and many other artists who have made profound contributions to music.
After graduating from UNT, Dan returned to Connecticut to take an Artist Instructor position at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, directing the award-winning Jazz Ensemble 3, arranging for and co-directing “The Real Ambassadors” Jazz Choir, and teaching courses in harmony/eartraining/jazz theory, improvisation, and jazz history. He has continued his studies, taking lessons with Ellery Eskelin (improvisation/solo saxophone) and Darcy James Argue (composition), and regularly attending the Improvisations series at Real Art Ways in Hartford to learn about free improvisation from Stephen Haynes and Joe Morris with guest artists. Dan is a member of the George Mastrogiannis Quintet playing woodwinds and plays tenor saxophone with the Nobuki Takamen Quartet. With fellow WCSU graduates Grant Beale, Silvain Castellano, and Dave Campbell he has co-founded the group Dagrasida, which has an emphasis on free improvisation and original composition.