January 8, 2021

L.A. Studio Legends #9: Dan Higgins

Legendary saxophonist and woodwind specialist talks his career as studio musician in Los Angeles, from his early days as session player to his collaborations with Maestro John Williams, including the stunning alto saxophone solos he performed on the score for Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me If You Can

Saxophonist and woodwind specialist Dan Higgins is unquestionably one of the most talented session musicians on the planet and also highly respected among his peers. His stunning skills both as saxophonist and woodwind player on several instruments (including clarinet and flute) have been appreciated by a wide variety of composers and musicians with whom Higgins collaborated throughout his amazing career. He has performed in the woodwind section on several John Williams' film scores since the mid-1990s, but he's first and foremost remembered for the stunning alto saxophone solos he recorded on the brilliant score Maestro Williams composed in 2002 for the film Catch Me If You Can, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks.

Born in Boston, MA, in 1955, Dan Higgins first distinguished himself as an outstanding saxophonist while attending University of North Texas. After moving to Los Angeles, Dan started to work as a freelance studio musician, mostly on record dates, but also on many recordings for television shows, including playing on live shows and specials, following the footsteps of other great saxophone players like Gene Cipriano, Ronnie Lang and Plas Johnson.

His career as studio musician for the film and television industry is impressive: he has worked on 700+ motion picture scores and is a featured saxophone soloist on many great films with such notable composers as John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Marc Shaiman, Randy Newman, David Newman and Alexandre Desplat among others.

Dan Higgins has worked extensively with John Williams for more than 25 years. His first collaboration was playing alto saxophone on a few “period music” source pieces that Williams arranged as part of the musical score for Schindler’s List (1993). However, the big breakthrough came in 2002, when the Maestro called upon Dan’s talents as soloist on alto saxophone for the score to Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. The film was a box office hit and the score garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. The success pushed Williams to prepare a three-movement concert suite based on the main thematic material from the score called Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Higgins premiered the concert suite with the Maestro on the podium conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra in May 2003 and subsequently appeared as guest soloist to perform the piece with notable orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In this conversation, Dan talks about his amazing career as studio musicians in Los Angeles, his early days as jazz musician, how he picked up the legacy from legendary studio saxophonists like Gene Cipriano and Ronnie Lang and also how he learned discipline from them. Dan talks extensively about the projects he did with John Williams, with a special focus on his soloist work on Catch Me If You Can, remembering the recording sessions for that film and offering his own unique insight into the creative process of Maestro Williams. Dan also recollects the work on The Adventures of Tintin and the unique instructions John Williams gave him before recording the zany “Canto Bight” jazz piece for The Last Jedi.

For more information and the list of the musical excerpts, visit https://thelegacyofjohnwilliams.com/2021/01/08/dan-higgins-podcast/

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