Gleason’s stellar sax talents


Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason is well known in the KO community. What many don’t know is that he is an avid saxophone player and has performed all over the world.

Dr. Gleason started playing the alto saxophone in fourth grade. “I was only ten when I started playing and I thought it looked shiny and cool,” he said.

In elementary school, he took saxophone lessons with the school. “I remember that my math teacher was upset because I had to be pulled out of math occasionally for my lessons,” he said. Starting in middle school, Dr. Gleason joined the band and played the alto sax while continuing to take lessons; however, he didn’t practice regularly until he reached high school.

“It was really a matter of finding intrinsic motivation and for me it happened in high school when I suddenly wanted to play more and get better. Once I found that, everything changed,” he said.

Dr. Gleason’s saxophone skills were largely impacted by a boy scout troop that was also a big band person that he played with. He wasn’t affiliated with the boy scouts but remained a saxophone player, continuing to refine his abilities. He participated in the band from sixth grade through high school. “The band was run by a very devoted college jazz instructor who worked with us on improvisation. I learned almost all the music theory I learned for him,” he said.

During high school, Dr. Gleason transitioned to playing the tenor sax. As a part of the concert band and jazz band, he played at school concerts. In addition, he was in a separate band with his friend who played the trumpet, as well as with other musicians; they played at local cafés.

Dr. Gleason attended Pomona College, where he played at college parties and events. His band also had the opportunity to open for many popular groups such as “Jurassic 5” and “The Alcoholics.” While studying abroad in Scotland, he continued to play at bars with friends in Edinburgh.

After college, Dr. Gleason got a job in Japan teaching English to students. He played in different bands and performed at several concerts. The big bands were very polished and making the melodies and heads sound perfect was something that the director really emphasized.

After practices, Dr. Gleason and other musicians would get together and hang out. “I played music with people and we would end up at Denny’s for dessert at midnight and it was always really fun,” he said. Dr. Gleason also spent time in San Francisco, playing at a wine bar, and he later moved to Chicago, where he and his trumpeter friend played some events.

In Chicago, Dr. Gleason taught at a school where he also participated in talent shows and taught jazz improvisation classes. “It was a great way to connect with students. Music is like communicating in a different way,” he said.

While it has been some time since Dr. Gleason last performed, he has practiced a little with the KO jazz band.“It was really surprising because he doesn’t talk about playing often, but he is phenomenal. He is really good at listening and building on others,” said senior and tenor saxophone player Elan Stadelmann.

Recently, Dr. Gleason has also gotten back into practicing, using play along tracks made by Jamey Aeberssold. He hopes to be able to practice more with the jazz band in the future. “What makes playing the saxophone fun for me is when I play jazz, there are a lot of creative liberties that can be taken and I enjoy that freedom to stretch out and improvise.”