Dayna Stephens | New Day: The Emeryville Sessions, Vol. 3

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New Day: The Emeryville Sessions, Vol. 3

by Dayna Stephens

A rising tenor sax star plays originals and standards in a Hammond B3 quartet setting w. guitar and drums.
Genre: Jazz: Hammond Organ
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Grapes (feat. Joe Cohn, Joe Bagg & Akira Tana)
6:23 $0.99
2. Wil's Way (feat. Wil Blades, Sam Dickey & Akira Tana)
5:47 $0.99
3. Blue in Green (feat. Joe Cohn, Joe Bagg & Akira Tana)
4:59 $0.99
4. New Day (feat. Wil Blades, Sam Dickey & Akira Tana)
5:11 $0.99
5. Sugar (feat. Joe Cohn, Joe Bagg & Akira Tana)
6:30 $0.99
6. The 101 (feat. Joe Cohn, Joe Bagg & Akira Tana)
6:03 $0.99
7. Begues Life (feat. Wil Blades, Sam Dickey & Akira Tana)
7:06 $0.99
8. Green Dolphin Street (feat. Wil Blades, Sam Dickey & Akira Tana)
5:35 $0.99
9. You Stepped Out of a Dream (feat. Joe Cohn, Joe Bagg & Akira Tana)
5:04 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

Dayna Stephens, A New Day “The Emeryville Sessions Vol. 3”
By Andrew Gilbert

On a scene brimming with accomplished young musicians all too eager to make a mark, Dayna Stephens is a refreshing outlier. While widely regarded as one of the most formidable improvisers of his generation, the tenor saxophonist has pursued a creative path that’s kept him mostly under the radar. Rather than seeking recording opportunities simply to keep his name in circulation, he’s taken his time to hone his craft as a bandleader and composer, soaking up experience with some of jazz’s deepest thinkers, including Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron, and Wayne Shorter. Revered by his contemporaries, he’s recorded with an array of startlingly creative peers, such as Gretchen Parlato, Erik Jekabson, Sachal Vasandani, Adam Shulman, Matt Slocum, Taylor Eigsti, Josh Nelson, and Matt Baker.

Stephens released his first album under his own name, 2007’s critically hailed “The Timeless Now” (CTA), at the relatively advanced age of 28. Featuring a heavyweight cast including Eigsti, John Scofield, and Eric Harland, the album firmly established Stephens as a major league talent possessing a gift for melodic invention, expansive harmonic sensibility, and a ravishing, pillowy tone. He took five years before releasing his second CD in the winter of 2012, “Today Is Tomorrow” (Criss Cross), an album picked by numerous critics as one of the year’s best.

With one of the “Emeryville Sessions” recorded around the time of his debut album and the other in the fall of 2011, this is only the third release under Stephens’ name, making it an invaluable and thoroughly enjoyable addition to his abbreviated discography. While at first glance it looks like a meat and potatoes showcase for Stephens with an organ combo, the supremely satisfying album finds him keeping company with two distinct and subtly contrasting quartets. The tracks mostly alternate between the bands, and the insouciantly swinging thread connecting both sessions is drummer Akira Tana, a veteran master whose credits include memorable recordings by Zoot Sims, Art Farmer, James Moody, Jimmy Heath and J.J. Johnson. As a player distinguished by his maturity and old soul even in his early 20s, Stephens sounds right at home with both combos.

Listeners discovering Stephens through this album will find a player with a huge, soft, luxuriant sound that’s among the most beautiful in jazz. While he’s clearly absorbed a wide array of influences, from Stan Getz and Charlie Rouse to Joe Henderson and Mark Turner, he isn’t beholden to any particular school. “That’s something I really work on,” Stephens says, “developing a tone that’s comforting and that still projects. A lot of players use an edge to their sound, but I want to project while keeping my sound wide and soft.”

The 2007 session, let’s call the band Joe2, features ace guitarist Joe Cohn (son of tenor legend Al Cohn and vocalist Marilyn Moore) and is supremely satisfying. The B-3 expert on this session is Joe Bagg, a tremendously skilled player who has introduced the organ to a new generation of jazz musicians in Southern California. Stephens’ opens the album with Bagg’s stutter-stepping “Grapes,” a tune that brings to mind the brilliant and vastly underrated tenor man Eddie Harris. The bulk of the Joe2 session features classic material. Stephens interprets “Blue In Green” with poise and abiding sensitivity, and swaggers through Stanley Turrentine’s soul jazz anthem “Sugar,” evoking some of Mr. T’s sass while putting his own relaxed stamp on the tune.

“Stanley Turrentine was a huge influence on me growing up,” Stephens says. “His sound and sense of swing, the way he does that little chatter, the little vibrato at the end of his notes, he has a very distinctive very soulful personality.”

The 2011 session features Bay Area B-3 star Wil Blades and Bay Area-raised Brooklyn guitarist Sam Dickey, a player whose light, singing tone reveals his immersion in several West African styles. Stephens came to the studio bearing a sheaf of original tunes that he tailored for the cats on hand. Most conspicuously, “Wil’s Way” is a feature for Blades, who deftly navigates the tune’s unusual structure, leading to a playful showdown over seven-bar phrases. Played at a deliberate tempo, “New Day” is an intricate, optimistically ascending piece that unleashes Dickey’s love of the Super Rail Band’s Djelimady Tounkara, while “Begues Life, a buoyant bossa with almost no trace of saudade, showcases Stephens’ sumptuous tone. The album closes with the standard by Joe2 combo, a brisk and exhilarating arrangement of “You Stepped Out of A Dream” that juxtaposes sweet and funky lyricism with a breakneck tempo.

In many ways, the “Emeryville Sessions” is a musical homecoming for Stephens. “This is what mostly what I heard my grandfather listening to when I was growing up,” he notes. “His main men were Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff, and I’m still influenced by a lot of the classic B-3 material.
I still listen to Stanley Turrentine with Shirley Scott. Wil Blades is my connection with that world. He’s always hipping me to cats I’ve never heard of.”

Born in Brooklyn and raised in the East Bay communities of Richmond and El Cerrito, Stephens started gaining notice while attending Alameda High. When the school’s band director quit at the beginning of his junior year, Stephens and a friend took over the ensemble. Looking for more rigorous musical training, he transferred to Berkeley High his senior year, and quickly became one of the vaunted jazz program’s leading lights. That’s when I first heard Stephens, and he already possessed a strong, discernable personality on the horn, marked by his lush sound and supple sense of time. Covering his steady evolution into a world-class improviser has been a highlight of my work as an arts journalist.

Stephens won a full scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and then earned a spot in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s rigorous two-year masters program. Then based at the University of Southern California, he auditioned for Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard, who ran the program. Part of an ostentatiously talented class, he forged deep ties with fellow Monk students Gretchen Parlato, Lionel Loueke, Massimo Biolcati, and Ferenc Nemeth.

Since graduating in 2003, Stephens has divided his time between the Bay Area and Patterson, N.J., where he’s making a name for himself on the New York scene through his work with leading figures like trumpeter/composer Tom Harrell, drummer Winard Harper, and pianist Kenny Barron. He’s also an accomplished bassist who has performed with Roy Hargrove, though New York has afforded fewer opportunities on the instrument. If there’s any factor that’s been holding him back it’s his fight against Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a disease that necessitates a kidney transplant. Despite needing regular dialysis, Stephens has continued to write, perform, record and tour, though traveling with medical supplies makes leaving the country difficult. Beloved by his peers as a person and a player, they’ve rallied in support, launching a website ( to raise awareness about FSGS and funds for his ongoing treatment. More than anything, this album offers a candid glimpse into Stephens’ big and giving soul.

Andrew Gilbert contributes regularly to the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle and JazzTimes.




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