On Monday, July 4th, The All-Star Bay Area Musician’s Community will come together at Yoshi’s San Fransisco in support of dynamic saxophonist and composer Dayna Stephens, who is battling a rare kidney disease, and is in need of a transplant. The concert’s line-up is scheduled to include Marcus Shelby, Lavay Smith, John Santos, Ray Obiedo, Faye Carol, Kenny Washington, Mike Olmos and Wil Blades among others.
Stephens, who is loved and respected equally on and off of his instrument, was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) which affects 20 out of every million people. The awareness of FSGS was heightened when NBA superstars Sean Elliott and Alonzo Mourning were stricken with the disease within a few years of each other. Both have recovered successfully.
Stephens is unanimously described by his peers as a uniquely brilliant saxophonist and an inspirational human being. Stephens’ outlook and disposition are the apotheosis of being attuned with one’s humanity and artistic expression. In his own words, “With all this in mind, the music must go on.”
And indeed it will.
Stephens recently completed a successful KickStarter campaign for his new album which will feature an awesome ensemble of musicians including fellow Bay Area natives, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Justin Brown. The album will also feature saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianist Taylor Eigsti, and bassist Joe Sanders. Singer Gretchen Parlato will appear as a special guest on the album, and has a long-time musical and personal friendship with Stephens. “He’s a beautiful human being…incredible musician. So genuine and humble but such a monstrous talent.”
Brooklyn born and Bay area bred, Dayna Stephens began playing saxophone at 13 years old. He attended Berkeley High School, and was consequently accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has since played with an array of great musicians like Kenny Barron, Roy Hargrove, Tom Harrell, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Parker, Freddie Hubbard, Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, and many more. One of the Thelonious Monk Institute’s brightest rising stars, Stephens began to emerge as a very talented arranger and composer, while thriving on his instrument. It was here that Parlato (another Monk Institute student) and Stephens developed their relationship. Stephens also appears on Parlato’s latest release, The Lost and Found, offering the title track, which he previously recorded on his stellar debut album The Timeless Now, in 2007. “It was an instrumental piece, already with that title, and he asked me to write lyrics,” explained Parlato. “So I just unraveled his theme.. this theme in our lives of opposition, and learning to accept it… everything is always up/down, good/bad, high/low, moment to moment in the bigger picture of our existence.”
These sentiments about Stephens’ incredible perspective and positive attitude are echoed by Stephanie Dalton, who is director of Urban Music Presents; the organization producing the upcoming benefit. “The day to day living while being on dialysis is truly remarkable; 11 hours at one time and two additional hours throughout the day. Yet in spite all of this, he is recording a new album, regularly performing and teaching and mentoring.”
Dalton, who has plans to put on a similar event in New York City in the fall, expounds on Stephens’ humility. “Dayna would never ask for help. I just thought it was something I could try to do to raise awareness for him, as this will be a long sustained effort.” The continued efforts are sorely needed, as the kidney transplant is only the first step to healing. “He is on the list to receive a transplant, and once he gets the transplant, he is facing over $4,000 a month in prescriptions for the anti rejection meds,” says Dalton.
If the jazz community can reflect Stephens’ perpetual light, this benefit should be outstanding. Nothing less is deserved for a musician who inspires so many above and beyond jazz. “I always say he’s an angel on earth,” says Parlato. “When you are around him you feel like he has a bigger purpose…like something really deep is going on.” ♦
Please Note: Dayna cannot accept contributions directly.
Please watch this video to find out exactly how you can help and get involved.
Sentiments from the jazz community…
on the music scene, Dayna Stephens is also a wonderful human being. Dayna
is a graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance and he
has made everyone at the Institute extremely proud with his many
accomplishments and with his commitment to moving the music forward.”
– Johnathan Blake
– Justin Brown
– Robert Glasper
” ‘Dude’… that’s one of the words he used often (smile). Dayna’s heart is pure as a kid’s heart. He’s always ready to help in any situation. When it comes to music, he has one of the best saxophone sounds I’ve ever heard.”
– Lionel Loueke
“I remember first meeting Dayna. We attended the Aspen Snowmass camp together, and every night there were jam sessions where he’d actually play acoustic bass ALLL night! The fact is, he sounded great on bass as well as tenor. I admired his passion for music, and I still do to this day. Working with him on Gretchen’s album was a highlight for me. It had been a few years since I heard Dayna, and to hear the growth, depth, and artist that he has become inspired me. I feel privileged to have worked with someone with an undeniable strong voice on his instrument, and I look forward to hearing more from him!”
– Derrick Hodge
“Dayna is one of those special-few brilliant musician folk who plays and lives from the heart. Being around him and hearing the expression of his art makes the world of music (and friends) a better place.”
Dayna Stephens has been a constant inspiration for me since we met at Berklee. His humanity shine through his music and he’s always been a person of humility and extraordinary talent. I wish Dayna the best.”
“Dayna is my favorite tenor player to play with. I fully respect and admire his musicianship. Dayna brings a certain spirit to the music, one that I can only describe as ‘like a big hug’. His sound is so warm. His ideas are so creative. Everything he plays feels like an invitation. He has that rare special quality where he can make everyone in the band sound better. As a person, Dayna shows genuine love and compassion for all those around him. His genuine selflessness transcends the music and effects all the people he encounters. This is what makes him a true artist and a beautiful person.”
– Gerald Clayton
Dayna, get well, my man. We’re all sending our prayers and positive energy out to you. You will beat this.
Best to you Dayna – you are a very strong and beautiful person. Lets get you better.
Dayna, sending lots of love and God’s healing your way bro. You have my support as well as many others, please know that. We’ll take of care you my man.
Wishing you lots of healing energy and lots of love bruh. We all have experienced your kind spirit, now we send that energy back your way. Thank you for being an inspiration by simply being yourself, and I wish you all the light that’s possible. Get better soon.
There is a set of Dayna Stephens shows in Bay Area this month and an excellent article by Richard Scheinin: