Don Menza & His '80's Big Band

b. 22 April 1936, Buffalo, New York, USA. From the age of 12 Menza took a serious interest in music, studying clarinet, although he was to teach himself composing and arranging. In the 50s, and by now…
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Artist Biography

b. 22 April 1936, Buffalo, New York, USA. From the age of 12 Menza took a serious interest in music, studying clarinet, although he was to teach himself composing and arranging. In the 50s, and by now playing tenor saxophone, he entered military service and was stationed for a time in Germany where he played in the 7th Army Jazz Orchestra. From the mid-50s, he played with several noted musicians, including Don Ellis, Cedar Walton and Lanny Morgan. In 1960, he joined Maynard Ferguson as instrumentalist and arranger. He was then briefly with Stan Kenton but opted to return to his home town, showing a preference for small-group work. In the mid-60s, he lived and worked in Germany. In 1968, he returned to the USA, playing in the Buddy Rich big band.

Resident in Los Angeles throughout the next decade, Menza developed his writing, both as arranger and composer. In particular, he wrote for Louie Bellson, with whom he also played and recorded. In the 80s, he played with several Los Angeles-based big bands, including that led by Bill Berry, and also led his own big bands and small groups. He toured extensively, at home and overseas, usually appearing as a single. His thorough musical background and eclectic tastes - he admires and has studied the work of many classical composers - have also allowed him to work in non-jazz contexts. A fiery, aggressive performer, Menza’s writing shows his bebop leanings, which he brings even into his big band work.