STTF x EGT Collaboration

James Casey
Saxophonist
Trey Anastasio Band (TAB)

Wr
itten by Jon Caruso & Christy Articola (STTF)

Photo Credit: Mic McCoy

Every journey, whether big or small, starts with a dream. Dreams are often born from our innate curiosities and motivations, but they cannot be achieved by sheer will alone. It takes courage to take that first step and continually work towards our goals, despite whatever challenges life throws at us. Success stories of those who had the passion and perseverance to achieve their ambitions are inspiring. We share these moments to give hope, share important lessons and encourage others to reach their goals. Stevie Wonder once said, “Hold on to your dream, 'cause they're always worth having.” So, keep on dreaming and don’t give up hope. There isn’t a simple formula to achieve a life beyond the dream – as much like our fingerprints or DNA,
every story is unique.

For James Casey, NY/LA-based multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer and composer, his journey began when he was a child. Born in Washington, D.C. to a musical family, and raised in Phoenix, AZ, James Casey’s Mom and Dad were both musicians and his grandfather (on his Dad’s side) was Marvin Gaye’s bass player. It’s clear that talent and the love of music runs deep in his family!

Surrender to the Flow and The el Goose Times had the honor to speak with James about his life and journey as a musician so far:

What was it like growing up in a musical household? Was there always music playing in your house?

There was music playing all the time. My Dad and Mom had a pretty extensive record collection, so they always had music playing,
mostly gospel.

Were you exposed to a variety of genres growing up or to certain ones in particular?

Actually, it was mostly gospel. My Mom was a pastor and my Dad’s the choir director, so, the music we had in the house was gospel and soul-based growing up.

Was there a particular musical experience that let you know that music was going to be a big part of your life moving forward?

No. Honestly, it was just always there. To be honest, there was never a point in my life where music wasn’t there - so I don’t know what it would feel like for me to actually go after music, in that way. You know what I mean?

How did you get into the sax?

I started playing the sax when I was in the fifth grade. My older brother also plays and started playing saxophone in fifth grade when I was in second grade and he brought it home to show my family - but I didn’t have any front teeth to play. So, I really wanted to play saxophone after that point when I got to fifth grade, because then I would finally have a chance to play. We didn’t have any money at the time and my Mom told me that if she rented the saxophone that I couldn’t quit.


You also have a great singing voice – did both of these talents comes naturally to you or was it learned/perfected over time through practice and experience?

Any instrument that you play that is not attached to your body cannot come naturally. So, it only comes from experience and practice - all of
that stuff. However, I don’t really remember working on singing as a kid, it was just something that we always did. And because we always did, I just got better at it. You don’t really see the small steps of improvement when you’re a child – it’s just everything’s a big improvement, so you don’t see it
that way.

If you could play with any musician in history, who would it be and why?

Stevie Wonder, because he’s the best and he’s perfect. He did it all and there’s nobody better than him at the thing that I want to do. Period.


Following in his family’s footsteps, James pursued his passion for music and attended Berklee College of Music for a Music Business degree. James moved to New York a few years later to continue to develop his passion for making music. A current member of the Trey Anastasio Band (now for over ten years), he has had the opportunity to perform, record, produce and write with many of the world's most influential artists. What are your favorite collaborations prior to joining Trey Anastasio Band (TAB)?

Out of college, I had a group called Six Figures - they were just my friends and some of the best musicians that I knew and still know to this day. Once we all moved to New York, everybody kind of spread out to do amazing things within their own abilities! I started another group called Animus Rexx, which was another group of friends from school and it was one of my favorite things to be a part of.

I like being in groups - it’s a lot more fun to collaborate than just be by yourself.


How did you end up joining TAB? Did Trey approach you personally?

In 2012, I was in Lettuce and Soulive. Soulive would do this thing at the Brooklyn Bowl called Bowlive. They would play for two weeks in March every year and in 2012 – this was the third year they had this event – Jennifer Hartswick was one of the special guests. I had no idea who she was, she had no idea who I was…we met there and after the first show she was like: “Yo, you’re good!” and I’m like, “Yo, you’re good! Where did you come from?” (Chuckles) “You know, we should keep in touch!” “We definitely will!”

I saw her later that year, maybe like two months later at Jazz Fest. I was joking around with everybody, “This is the year that James getting gigs! I’m just letting y’all know I’m looking for every gig on Earth!” or whatever, and she was like, “Actually, you know…I already recommended you for something and I hope it works out!” I was like, “Cool!”

Cut to August that year, I get a phone call from Trey while he’s at soundcheck for Phish. He called me up and explains the whole thing to me on a voice memo. And I listen to it and go back to sleep because I didn’t know who Phish, who Trey was or who any of these people were. But then – I’ve told this story before – I called up Eric Krasno (a member of Lettuce and Soulive) to ask him who this dude was and what was going on. He literally told me to hang up the phone – he yelled at me: “Hang up the phone, call him back, say “yes” and then call me back to explain what’s going on.” So, that’s what happened!


Tell us about your relationship/friendships with everyone in TAB - you all seem like a real family up there! Is there anyone in the band that you click with most, more than others, or are you all equally close?

Yeah! I mean, when you tour with people for this long - I’ve been in this band for 10 years – you (chuckles) learn a lot about all of the idiosyncrasies, the ins and outs like the things that work and don’t work for them. And because of that, you kind of grow into…I guess the only word you could use is “family.” But to answer the question directly, the person I’m closest with is Natalie because we’re the closest in age, the youngest in the band and we were both living in New York when I joined the band - I’m closest with Nat.


What's your favorite venue you've played with TAB (so far)?

The 9:30 Club. The 9:30 Club in D.C. – it’s my favorite venue to play that’s not an arena. I’m from D.C... It always feels good there. When you sell out the place, they give you cupcakes that say 9:30 on them. They’re like the hostess cupcakes but good. It’s great, I love that place!

The TAB touring schedule can be pretty demanding with a lot of long-distance travel over short periods of time - what do you and your bandmates do for fun on tour or do you mainly just work and then rest/travel?

That’s a very good question. Before the pandemic started, there was a whole lot more hanging out, going to shows on days off and just being around and seeing people. Now, it’s a lot – I mean, everybody’s still worried about COVID. If we get COVID, if one of us gets COVID on tour, the tour could pretty much end up stopping - so we don’t do as much of that. But, you know, everybody has
their own thing!

While I’m on tour, I do a lot of production, Jennifer has been doing a lot of interviews for her record and Natalie does a lot of teaching when she’s on the road.

Photo Credit: Steph Port (@stephportphotos)

Tell us about your journey fighting cancer thus far.

(Pause) It's been a journey.

It’s been a little over a year and it’s been difficult. I keep telling people I’m in the best of the worst-case scenarios, because… things just keep working out in a way that it’s hard to believe. The fact that I’m able to go on tour and be out and play and do all this stuff while I’m still going through treatment astounds me. I don’t even know how…I didn’t know this was going to be possible when I started chemo. And I didn’t know this was going to be possible when I started the regimen that I’m on right now. But, I’m thankful of my family, my team, my partner and the good people at MSK (Memorial Sloan Kettering) to make it so I can continue while I’m being treated.


Are there any other musical projects outside of TAB that you’re currently working on that you’d like to share with our readers?

Okay, so here we go!

I have never put out any music under my name and this is going to be the first time I’ve ever done that – this year, it’s happening. I’m putting out a Christmas EP. This might be the first time I’ve actually said it out loud, but I’m releasing a Christmas EP this year and the first song is going to be released on November 14th. The proceeds from the vinyl sales are going directly to provide colon cancer screenings to people that aren’t insured.

We’re going to push that and it’s my first thing releasing anything. Actually…I’ll be releasing another thing at the beginning of next year too. I’m a little nervous but we’ll see what happens! Two records!

Thank you so much for your time, James! You’re a light and an inspiration in this community and know that both of our teams at Surrender to the Flow and The el Goose Times are rooting for you – we send our love, positive thoughts and support to you as you continue your fight
to beat cancer!


To learn more about the Colorectal Cancer Alliance - the organization that James chose for us to a donate in his honor -
please visit:
https://www.ccalliance.org

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Note: We are not affiliated, associated with or in any way officially connected to Goose.
We just love the band and community that much.


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