Multi-reedist and composer Mike McGinnis is a musical explorer unbound by stylistic barriers, unwaveringly individual, curious, and open-minded. As a clarinetist and saxophonist, McGinnis can swing in the straight ahead tradition, improvise on the most distant edge of the avant-garde, or navigate the meticulous turns of a contemporary classical composition. With every new release, he further reveals his passion for traversing musical genres. As a composer, McGinnis skillfully blurs these boundaries, working from a deeply imaginative space that has led DownBeat magazine to hail him as “a bold musician who… follows the road less traveled.”
McGinnis’ penchant for experimentation has led him to work with a dizzyingly impressive array of artists – from jazz innovators like Anthony Braxton, Alice and Ravi Coltrane, Hank Roberts, Ben Goldberg, Steve Coleman, and Lonnie Plaxico, to indie rock mainstays Yo La Tengo, to the Afro-Baroque Stew & the Negro Problem. He has performed on Broadway in the Tony-winning show Fela!, has co-led several ensembles, and has appeared as a soloist or sideman on over 60 recordings. For three consecutive years he has been listed in the Clarinet “Rising Star” category by the DownBeat magazine international critics poll.
In April of 2017, in his 20th year on the New York City jazz scene, he released his fourth album as a leader. For Recurring Dream (Sunnyside) McGinnis brought together two of his musical heroes, Art Lande and Steve Swallow who had not played together in over 40 years. The album consists of originals by each of them along with two covers and improvisations. His goal was to capture the sound of three sympathetic and like-minded musicians playing easily, relaxed and authentically. McGinnis will make his debut at one of NYC’s most prestigious jazz venues, the Jazz Standard with Lande and Swallow.
McGinnis’ personal vision has been evident since his 2000 debut release, Tangents (RKM), but perhaps no more than on two critically acclaimed 2013 releases that highlight his deep commitment to stylistic diversity and collaboration. Road*Trip (RKM) and Ängsudden Song Cycle (482 Music) both feature extended compositions that showcase McGinnis as composer and improviser. For Road*Trip, McGinnis worked with West coast jazz legend Bill Smith to plot a course through Smith’s deceptively complex “Concerto for Clarinet and Combo”; and at Smith's urging, McGinnis wrote “Road*Trip for Clarinet & 9 Players”. The album received a rare 4½ stars from DownBeat magazine, was named one of the 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2013 by the Village Voice, and was described by WNYC’s David Garland as “full of adventure, surprises, and beautiful vistas.”
In the dramatically different Ängsudden Song Cycle (482 Music), McGinnis found inspiration in the work of his longtime friend Filipino-American visual artist MuKha. The album, a tone poem that depicts the sonic landscape bridging a Swedish archipelago and the woods of McGinnis’ home state of Maine, evokes the strange silences and plaintive sounds of a forest in winter. The piece was described as a “poetically driven artistic statement” featuring “achingly beautiful arrangements” by Elliot Simon of the NYC Jazz Record, which named the LP release concert for Ängsudden Song Cycle one of the best live performances in New York City in 2013.
McGinnis’ musical daring has been recognized outside the jazz world as well and he has received commissions as varied as his own colorful palette, including creating music for the choreography of his wife, acclaimed dancer/choreographer, Davalois Fearon which was premiered at the Joyce Theater in January 2016. In 2015 he was commissioned by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to compose music based on emotions, in a collaboration with renowned brain scientist Pierre Magistretti. McGinnis’ music has appeared in film, including for Ang Lee’s 2009 Taking Woodstock and the 2015 Christopher Walken comedy One More Time. McGinnis, who has performed extensively throughout the United States and the world, is a Selmer Paris performing artist. He plays Selmer saxophones and clarinets and Bill Street mouthpieces exclusively.