Earl MacDonald

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Earl Murray MacDonald
Earl MacDonald - music arranger, composer, jazz pianist and music educator.jpg
Background information
Born (1970-07-26) July 26, 1970 (age 50)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
GenresJazz, bebop, hard bop, post-bop, modal jazz, big band, classical, orchestral jazz
Occupation(s)Composer, arranger, conductor, musician, university professor
Years active1995–present
LabelsDeath Defying Records, Sea Breeze Jazz
Associated actsBig Bop Nouveau, Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble

Earl MacDonald (born July 26, 1970)[1] is a Canadian pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, recording artist, and educator specializing in jazz. Described as "a magical, musical alchemist of hip hybrids",[2] MacDonald's compositional work frequently draws upon other musical styles, fusing them with jazz.[3] The Winnipeg native has been employed as director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut since the fall of 2000.[4]

Early years[edit]

MacDonald was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.[5] His father, Keith MacDonald, is an avid bagpiper who authored "The Church Piper" book series.[6] MacDonald has one sibling, Janine Mackie, a journalist and freelance writer based in Surrey, British Columbia.

MacDonald began taking music lessons at age five, starting on electronic organ. As a teenager he earned money playing the organ for Winnipeg Jets hockey games (1985-1988).[7] He attended Silver Heights Collegiate Institute, where his high school stage band was nationally recognized, winning "Most Outstanding" and Gold awards at the 1988 MusicFest Canada competition.[8][9] Also during high school, MacDonald began taking classical piano lessons with Darrel Loewen and Shirley Kwok at the Manitoba Conservatory for Music and Arts. He also studied music theory with Francis Sanderson.

Education & musical training[edit]

MacDonald earned a bachelor of music degree in 1992 from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he majored in jazz performance.[5] His jazz piano teachers included Fred Henke, Luc Beaugrand and André White.[10] He studied arranging with Christopher Smith, composition with Jan Jarczyk,[11] and improvisation with trumpeter Kevin Dean.

MacDonald's graduate studies spanned 1993 to 1995 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.[5] He apprenticed with Kenny Barron[12] who recorded MacDonald's composition, "Wanton Spirit" while he was still a graduate student.[13] The song was released as the title track of Barron's Grammy-nominated CD with Roy Haynes and Charlie Haden.[14] At Rutgers, MacDonald studied arranging with Michael Philip Mossman and played in ensembles under the direction of Ralph Bowen.

MacDonald has augmented his formal education by participating in the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop under the direction of Jim McNeely, Michael Abene and Mike Holober.[15] He also attended the Summer Jazz Workshop in Banff, Canada in 2001, and has audited conducting courses at UConn with Dr. Jeffrey Renshaw.[16]

Maynard Ferguson & Big Bop Nouveau[edit]

MacDonald joined Maynard Ferguson's touring band in 1998, following a one-year teaching appointment at Bowling Green State University.[17] He worked with Ferguson for two years, performing across North America,[18] Europe and Asia. One studio album was recorded during MacDonald's tenure with Ferguson: "Big City Rhythms", a collaboration with singer Michael Feinstein.[19] Video recordings of several concerts have been publicly released, including MacDonald's second performance with the band, which was released on DVD as "Maynard Ferguson - Live from the King Cat Theatre" (in Seattle, WA).[20]

MacDonald's bandmates with Ferguson included:

  • trumpeters Carl Fischer, Scott Englebright, Adolfo Acosta, Michael Bogart, Brian Ploeger, Thomas Marriott, Frank Abrahamson & Pete Ferguson
  • trombonists Rodney Lancaster, Mike Bravin, Kelsley Grant & Reggie Watkins
  • saxophonists Mike Dubaniewicz, Jeff Rupert, Mike MacArthur, Kelly Jefferson & Jim Brenan
  • bassists Paul Thompson, Nathan Peck & Brian Stahurski
  • drummers Dave Throckmorton & Brian Wolfe

In 1999, upon the departure of bassist Paul Thompson, Ferguson appointed MacDonald musical director of Big Bop Nouveau. As musical director, MacDonald rehearsed the ensemble, selected performance repertoire, made personnel recommendations and wrote musical arrangements.

In the lineage of Ferguson's pianists, MacDonald succeeded Ron Oswanski. Following MacDonald's departure in 2000, Ferguson hired Bryn Roberts and later Will Bonness, both of whom were MacDonald's former students from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.[21]


At the post-secondary level MacDonald has taught at:

At UCONN he teaches courses in improvisation and arranging, while also directing student ensembles and administering the jazz program. He was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor in 2005. Beyond his primary teaching position, MacDonald frequently participates as a clinician, guest conductor and teacher at summer camps. In recent years he has taught at the Kincardine Summer Music Festival,[23] Jazz In July at UMASS Amherst[24] and Marshall University's "Jazz-MU-Tazz" camp in West Virginia.

Awards, nominations & recognition[edit]


  • 2003: Sammy Nestico Award, for outstanding big band arrangement, sponsored by the USAF[25]
  • 2003: Artist Fellowship, Connecticut Commission on the Arts[26]
  • 2004: Best Jazz Group, Hartford Advocate's Reader's Poll[27] (the Earl MacDonald 6)
  • 2003: Parent's Choice Award for "Treblemakers Jazz It Up" CD.[28]
  • 2007: Finalist, Charlie Parker/BMI Jazz Composition Award
  • 2008: Finalist, ArtEZ Jazz Composition Contest, the Netherlands
  • 2009: Artist Fellowship, Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism[29]
  • 2011: JUNO award nomination for Traditional Jazz Album of the Year[30]
  • 2011: 10th Annual Independent Music Awards, winner, jazz song category[31]
  • 2011: Best Jazz Group, Hartford Advocate readers' poll (New Directions Ensemble)
  • 2011: Finalist, ArtEZ Jazz Composition Contest, the Netherlands[32]
  • 2014: JUNO award nomination for Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year[33]


  • 2003: AAUP Excellence Award for Teaching Promise[34]
  • 2004: New Scholar Award, School of Fine Arts, University of Connecticut
  • 2006: AAUP Excellence Award for Teaching Innovation[35]
  • 2011: UConn School of Fine Arts Special Achievement Award
  • 2013: UConn School of Fine Arts Outstanding Faculty Award[36]

Musical ensembles[edit]

Jazz Orchestra (Big Band)[edit]

MacDonald has released two albums of his compositions and arrangements for 17-piece jazz orchestra (big band): "UConn Jazz" (2002) and "Re:Visions - Works for Jazz Orchestra" (2010).[37] The latter received a Juno Award nomination for traditional jazz album of the year in 2011.[38] Reviewer, Dan Bilawsky asserted, "Re:Visions goes beyond where most big bands go and the music here establishes Earl MacDonald as a major force in the world of jazz composition."[39]

MacDonald's big band arrangements are published through eJazz Lines.[40]

C.O.W. (Creative Opportunity Workshop)[edit]

In 2013 MacDonald released an album with the unorthodox instrumentation of cello, saxophone, percussion and piano. MacDonald said, "This band, the Creative Opportunity Workshop, was formed to serve as a personal playground for experimentation and fusions." The CD, "Mirror of the Mind" received a JUNO award nomination for contemporary jazz album of the year[41] and a garnered many favorable reviews.[42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52]

New Directions Ensemble[edit]

MacDonald currently serves as Musical Director and Composer-In-Residence for the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble. The group's instrumentation consists of 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 French horn, 3 saxophones (1 alto, 1 tenor, 1 bari), piano, bass and drums.[53] Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant described the band and outlined its mission, stating "the fresh-sounding New Directions Ensemble taps into the rich lode of area talent, provides a vital forum for original compositions, spreads the good word about contemporary band music in its educational role, and provides a prominent public face for its sponsor, the Hartford Jazz Society. The New Directions Ensemble is set to swing in its own fresh way, generating contemporary band music that lives in the present, independent, cliché-free and untethered to conventional big band nostalgia."[54]


Albums as leader[edit]

Title Year Label
Schroeder's Tantrum 1997 Radioland[55]
UConn Jazz 2002 SeaBreeze Vista[56]
The Earl MacDonald 6 2005 SeaBreeze[57][58]
re:Visions 2010 Death Defying Records[59][60]
Mirror of the Mind 2013 Death Defying Records

Recorded collaborations[edit]

Yr Release title Primary artist(s) Role Certifications
1994 Wanton Spirit Kenny Barron, Charlie Haden, Roy Haynes composer of title track Grammy-nominated[61][62]
1998 Jim Brenan Jim Brenan arranger
1999 Big City Rhythms Michael Feinstein with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band piano [19]
2004 Treblemakers Jazz It Up Treblemakers Children's Choir, directed by Dr. Mary Ellen Junda arranger, piano Parents’ Choice Award
2004 Maynard Ferguson, Live From the King Cat Theatre in Seattle. DVD. Maynard Ferguson, Big Bop Nouveau piano
2007 Tom Thorndike Trio Tom Thorndike producer [63]

Personal life[edit]

Currently, MacDonald lives in Mansfield, CT with his wife, Jana (née Smith). The couple were married in 2003 in South Windsor, CT. Together they have two young children.[64]


  1. ^ "Earl MacDonald - Musician Profile", All About Jazz. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  2. ^ McNally, Owen. "UConn Jazz Prof Earl MacDonald Celebrates New Release at Jorgensen", The Hartford Courant, Hartford, 7 October 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  3. ^ Chandler, Maxwell. "Earl MacDonald; Mirror of the Mind", Our Man On The Coast, 31 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  4. ^ "Earl MacDonald | Department of Music | UConn". music.uconn.edu.
  5. ^ a b c "Earl MacDonald – Biography", Canadian Jazz Archive Online.
  6. ^ MacDonald, Keith E. (2004). The Church Piper, Volume 6: 'Wedding Music", page iv, Special Acknowledgements. Church Piper Publications. ISBN 0-9698875-7-4.
  7. ^ Taylor, Scott (2007). The Winnipeg Jets: A Celebration of Professional Hockey in Winnipeg, p. 157. Studio Publications Inc. ISBN 978-0-9782622-1-1.
  8. ^ Dempsey, Gaylene K. (June 8, 1988). High schools' music reaps gold in Calgary, p. 5. The Metro One, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
  9. ^ MacDonald, Earl. "Three Generations, 88 Keys", Ever Up And Onward, Mansfield, CT, 19 March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  10. ^ McCaslin, Jon. "Earl MacDonald, Mirror of the Mind", Four on the Floor, Calgary, Alberta, 20 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  11. ^ MacDonald, Earl. "Jan Jarczyk Tribute", Ever up and Onward, Mansfield Center, CT, 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  12. ^ Corroto, Mark. All About Jazz (April 15, 2010). "Earl MacDonald | Re:Visions". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  13. ^ Bloom, Lee. "Kenny Barron - Wanton Spirit", AllMusic, 1995.
  14. ^ "The BNY Mellon Jazz 2008 Living Legacy Award Winner" Archived April 14, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.
  15. ^ "Faculty Activities and Achievements", UCONN Advance, Storrs, CT, 12 October 2004
  16. ^ MacDonald, Earl. "Resumé" Archived April 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, www.earlmacdonald.com. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  17. ^ a b "BGSU Music Faculty, 1914-2014", Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, 2014.
  18. ^ "MaynardFerguson.com". MaynardFerguson.com. June 4, 2000. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  19. ^ a b Widran, Jonathan. "Michael Feinstein, Big City Rhythms", AllMusic, 12 October 1999.
  20. ^ "Maynard Ferguson – Live from the King Cat Theater – DVD", JazzBooks.com.
  21. ^ MacDonald, Earl. "Earl's Former Students" Archived April 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, www.earlmacdonald.com.
  22. ^ Franco, Gloria. "An Interview with Earl MacDonald by Gloria Franco of the Hartford Jazz Society", Ever up and Onward, Hartford, CT, 16 April 2013..
  23. ^ "Earl MacDonald - Piano, Composer" Archived April 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Kincardine Summer Music Festival, Kincardine, ON, 2014.
  24. ^ "Artist Faculty Biographies" Archived June 15, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Jazz In July, Amherst, MA, 27, 2015.
  25. ^ "Sammy Nestico Award For a New Jazz Composition", The United States Air Force Band
  26. ^ "Faculty Activities & Achievements", UCONN Advance, Storrs, CT, 10 February 2003.
  27. ^ "UConn Advance – September 20, 2004 – Activities and Achievements". Advance.uconn.edu. September 20, 2004. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  28. ^ "Parents' Choice Awards - Treblemakers Jazz It Up", Parents' Choice Awards, 2005.
  29. ^ "36 Artists Receive FY09 CCT Artist Fellowship Awards ", Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, Hartford, 2009.
  30. ^ "Manitobans flavour Juno nominations", CBC News, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1 February 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  31. ^ "10th Annual Independent Music Awards Winners Announced!", Independent Music Awards, 29 March 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  32. ^ MacDonald, Earl. "ArtEZ Jazz Composition Competition", Ever up and Onward, Mansfield, CT, 14 June 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  33. ^ "Manitoba Artists Ready to Shine at 2014 JUNO Awards", Manitoba Music, Winnipeg, 4 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  34. ^ "2003 AAUP Excellence Awards For Teaching, Research and Service", AAUP, The University of Connecticut Chapter - Bulletin, Storrs, CT, 1 April 2003.
  35. ^ "UConn Advance – April 24, 2006 – AAUP announces awards for excellence". Advance.uconn.edu. April 24, 2006. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  36. ^ "Earl MacDonald, Associate Professor & Director of Jazz Studies" Archived April 16, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, "University of Connecticut, Dept. of Music, Storrs, CT, 2015. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  37. ^ Obuchowski, Chuck. "Jazz Composer Earl MacDonald 'Re:Envisions' His Career's Work", Hartford Courant, Hartford, 4 May 2010.
  38. ^ McCabe, Daniel. "A Juno Jubilee" Archived April 16, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, McGill News, Montreal, 10 April 2015.
  39. ^ Bilawsky, Bill. "Earl MacDonald: Re: Visions (2010)", All About Jazz, 17 April 2010.
  40. ^ "Earl MacDonald arrangements", eJazz Lines, New York.
  41. ^ "2014 Nominees and Winners" Archived March 20, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 2014.
  42. ^ "Mirror of the Mind - Reviews" Archived April 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, www.earlmacdonald.com.
  43. ^ Kremsky, Stuart. "Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop", Cadence Magazine, October 2014.
  44. ^ Howison, Jamie. "New Music from Earl MacDonald" Archived November 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, God's Mind in that Music, Winnipeg, 25 March 2014.
  45. ^ Chandler, Maxwell. "Earl MacDonald; Mirror of the Mind", Our Man on the Coast, 14 March 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  46. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Earl MacDonald - Mirror of the Mind", L.A. Jazz Scene, Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 2014.
  47. ^ Harris, George W.. "Sounds Melding Together... Earl MacDonald & the Creative Opportunity Workshop: Mirror of the Mind", Jazz Weekly, 2 January 2014.
  48. ^ Wilkins, Woodrow. "Mirror of the Mind", The Jazz Writer, 1 January 2014.
  49. ^ Giroux, Pierre. "Earl MacDonald and The Creative Opportunity Workshop – Mirror Of The Mind – Death Defying Records; A Musical Outing That Is Hard to Define." Archived April 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Audiophile Audition, 9 December 2013.
  50. ^ Lindsay, Bruce. "Earl MacDonald and The Creative Opportunity Workshop: Mirror Of The Mind (2013)", All About Jazz, London, 15 November 2013.
  51. ^ Williams, H. Allen. "Earl MacDonald - Mirror of the Mind" Archived April 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, JazzTimes, 15 October 2013.
  52. ^ Blanco, Edward. "Earl MacDonald and The Creative Opportunity Workshop: Mirror Of The Mind (2013)", All About Jazz, 13 October 2013.
  53. ^ MacDonald, Earl. "New Directions Ensemble" Archived April 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, www.earlmacdonald.com.
  54. ^ McNally, Owen. "Earl MacDonald and Friends at Szechuan Tokyo – Hartford Courant". Articles.courant.com. January 20, 2011. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  55. ^ Miller, Mark. "Schroeder's Tantrum - Earl MacDonald", The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 22 January 1998.
  56. ^ Bauman, David (September 29, 2003). "Award-Winning UConn Jazz Ensemble Releases First Compact Disc – September 29, 2003". Advance.uconn.edu. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  57. ^ Kopman, Budd. All About Jazz (August 31, 2005). "The Earl MacDonald 6 | Echoes in the Night". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  58. ^ Lewis, Paul. All About Jazz (May 16, 2005). "The Earl MacDonald 6 | Echoes in the Night". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  59. ^ Gish, Bob. "Earl MacDonald - Re:Visions" Archived November 25, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Jazz Inside, 10 May 2010.
  60. ^ Blanco, Edward. "Earl MacDonald: Re:Visions (2010)", All About Jazz, 2 May 2010.
  61. ^ "Kenny Barron - biography", www.kennybarron.com.
  62. ^ Plunkett, John. "NEA Jazz Masters", National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, 2010.
  63. ^ "Tom Thorndike Trio", AllMusic, 2007.
  64. ^ MacDonald, Jana. "About Me", The Potter's Hand, Mansfield, CT, 2014.

External links[edit]