"...plays a mean tenor saxophone." JazzTimes Magazine
A seasoned performer, accomplished composer and respected educator, saxophonist Darcy Hepner has dedicated the past 30 years toward strengthening and refining his grasp of jazz, R&B and blues. Originally a cellist with a classical pedigree, he switched to saxophone while studying at the University of Miami and subsequently worked during the ‘80s with such legendary figures as B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Sergio Mendes and Henry Mancini. From 1985-1989, he taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and from 1996 -2005 lived in New York and worked on the Big Apple jazz scene as well as on various Broadway and off-Broadway shows, including "Movin' Out", "Love, Janis" and "Stray Cats." From 1999-2004, he toured as a regular member of the world renowned jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears.
His impressive list of credentials includes work with jazz singers Tony Bennett and Mel Tormé, the Artie Shaw Orchestra, the Uptown Horns, the Brooklyn Jazz Composers Orchestra, the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, rocker David Johansen, Broadway star Tom Wopat, saxophonists David Liebman and Olliver Lake, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and drumming great Louie Bellson. Darcy is in demand as a clinician and has presented master classes in Jazz Improvisation and Music Business in many colleges and universities including the Bilgi University in Istanbul, Turkey and Sacramento City College in Sacramento, California. His articles and CD's on improvisation have been published in Jazz Player Magazine and The Saxophone Journal.
Raised in the "Steel City" of Hamilton, Ontario, Hepner comes from a musical family. His father, Dr. Lee Hepner, was the founder of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and went on to become a Professor of Music at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His mother, Patricia Rolston, is a well known pianist who has performed throughout Canada and Europe. Darcy first came to music as a cellist, encouraged by his parents who hoped he would one day join them on the concert stage. He did eventually play cello in his father's orchestra at age 15 and also won a scholarship to the famed Congress of Strings in Cincinnati. Shortly after, he discovered the Beatles and electric guitar. "That was my recreational thing," he recalls. "I was playing guitar and had a little band that did Blood, Sweat & Tears stuff. And a saxophone player that I had in my band couldn’t play anything that I wrote, so one week out of frustration I just said, 'Gimme that, it can’t be that hard.' And about two months later I sold my guitar and bought an alto saxophone and started trying to figure it out."
Originally a cello major during his first year in college in Canada, Hepner wanted to switch to saxophone. "But the university that I went to didn’t consider saxophone a legitimate instrument, so I became a flute major," he recalls. His early saxophone influences during the early '70s included ubiquitous session man Tom Scott and Edgar Winter, a keyboardist who doubled on R&B-drenched alto sax. During this time he studied privately with the Toronto-based Coltrane-inspired tenor saxophonist Pat LaBarbera and also grabbed a lesson with the great saxophonist Sonny Stitt when he came through town. "I was seeking people out all the time here, just to keep pushing forward on the instrument."
After completing his Masters Degree in Jazz at the University of Miami he moved to New York to study with alto sax great Lee Konitz and tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer. In 1985, Hepner began teaching full-time at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and went on to become the Founding Department Head of the Selkirk College Music Program in Nelson, British Columbia, a position he held for seven years. It was during this time that he lent his saxophone sound to legendary performers including B.B. King, Sergio Mendes, Henry Mancini, and Aretha Franklin (more credits). He also toured the United States as a member of the Artie Shaw big band, performing at the Blue Note in New York and with Mel Tormé at the Hollywood Bowl. Hepner's self-titled debut as a leader was released in 1997 on Water Street Music.
In the summer of 2005 Darcy returned to Canada to his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, where he is currently a Professor of Music at Mohawk College. Since his return he has performed “Bird With Strings,” a recreation of jazz icon Charlie Parker's 1949 masterwork, and was also featured artist with Symphony Hamilton in a recreation of the daring symphonic work “Focus,” written in 1961 by composer-arranger Eddie Sauter for the great jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. Since January 2008 he has lead the Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra, a 16 piece all-star jazz ensemble. Their first recording "Blues In Another Minute" was released on August 30, 2010.