Multi-reed musician whose recording career has spanned about five decades. He has made himself one of the most valuable players in the recording industry by his sheer versatility—he plays just about every reed instrument there is, including the ocarina—and has amassed a huge discography.
One of his earliest recordings is with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, a nervous little album entitled Under Analysis, released in 1956. In 1957, he teamed up with Don Elliott on Jamaica Jazz.
Another early highlight was the Judy Holiday-Gerry Mulligan collaboration, Holiday with Mulligan, recorded and released in 1961. He was also part of an outfit that billed themselves as Orchestra U.S.A. which recorded their Debut the same year, on which Don is credited with baritone sax and oboe. Don was part of the reeds section on Johnny Hodges’ Blue Notes and the Steve Kuhn-Gary McFarland album, Childhood Dreams, both of which date from 1966. He did some serious multi-tasking on 1968’s Road Song, playing clarinet, English horn, flute, oboe and recorder with the Wes Montgomery Quartet and Don Sebesky’s orchestra. At the turn of the decade, he was turning out From Left to Right with Bill Evans, then showed up on The Other Side of Abbey Road, blowing his baritone sax with jazz guitarist, George Benson.
He opened the ‘70s with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on Stand by Me and Grover Washington, Jr., on Inner City Blues. Don also played on the soundtrack of 1972’s Savages. He is credited with ocarinas and woodwinds on “Jungle Book”, which is track seven of Weather Report’s 1974 release, Mysterious Traveller. In 1975, he returned to the movie studio for Lalo Schifrin’s score of The Master Gunfighter. Around this time, possibly in 1976, he joined The Tonight Show band, with whom he would stay until 1992. In the meantime, there was plenty more recording to do: He popped up on Frank Sinatra’s heavily peopled 1979 boxed set, Trilogy.
In 1982, he offered Lionel Richie some woodwind support on his self-titled debut album. The following year, you could hear him blowing baritone sax and bass clarinet with David Grisman on Dawg Jazz/Dawg Grass. (Don appears on the first track, “Dawg Jazz”.) He joined the Revolution in 1986 for Prince’s Parade. Doc Severinsen and the boys were busy that year, as well, recording enough material for The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, which was split into two volumes. It was off to Disneyland for Don in October of 1988 with an appearance on Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films.
In 1991, Doc and friends cranked out the aptly titled Once More… with Feeling! on which Don played bass sax, clarinet, flute, and soprano sax. The following year, it was the end of The Tonight Show band as such, as Jay Leno took over for Johnny Carson and the big band that had been led by the likes of Doc Severinsen and Tommy Newsome was pared down to a smaller jazz ensemble, led by Bradford Marsalis. Don’s recordings seemed to taper off around the same time. He appeared on Michael Bolton’s Timeless: The Classics in 1992, but most of his latter-day efforts seem to be re-releases of older recordings done with Rosemary Clooney on the Concord Jazz label.
Other re-packagings on which he appears are Air Supply’s Christmas Album, George Benson’s Verve Jazz Masters 21 and Barry Manilow’s Showstoppers, re-released in 2008.
Here he is in an excerpt of an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1992..