“VERSATILE” is the first word that comes to mind when you hear harmonica virtuoso Damien Masterson. Leaping seamlessly from Brazilian samba and Cuban jazz to American funk or Argentine tango is all in a night’s work for Damien Masterson and his band. You might call it “world jazz.”
As one critic explained, “Damien’s skill surpasses the limitations of any one musical genre.” Whatever style he’s playing, you’ll find it grounded in solid technique and served up with a spirit of pure fun.
At 31, the Bay Area native has been dubbed “Toots Thielemans with soul.” Pleasing jazz fans from Yoshi’s and Kimball’s East in the Bay Area to venues throughout the West, Damien and Intercambio deliver solid musicianship, fine original tunes and festive good humor.
A Precarious Start: Born in Berkeley, CA in 1970, Damien spent his childhood shuffling between relatives, communes and foster homes—a total of 22 residences. After attending nine junior high and high schools, he followed the path of many kids with a transient upbringing, dropping out of school and into drugs and alcohol at 14.
Turning Point: At 15, Damien’s life took an upward turn when he met Altaneze Taylor, founder of
Bright Moments Music Lovers Club in San Francisco. Influenced by blues masters Sonny Boy
Williamson, Little Walter and Sonny Terry, he had begun playing a harmonica someone gave him.
“I could only play three notes at the time,” he confesses. Through Bright Moments, he met and studied with professional musicians and learned about jazz history. He was given an alto saxophone and later applied the theory he learned in sax lessons to chromatic and diatonic harmonicas.
Paying Dues: The discipline of music lessons helped Damien complete drug treatment and
return to school—two years at Laney College studying with Elvo D'amante, Ed Kelley and Jay Lehman, then a transfer to Cal State Hayward’s foreign exchange program (“intercambio”). For
the next two and a half years, he studied traditional Brazilian Samba and Choro music in Sao Paulo, playing some of Brazil’s top jazz venues and appearing as a featured player on Zerro Santos’ 1993 release, Santos Big Band.
Debut Release Wows Critics: Damien returned from Brazil to play with the Bay Area's best
Brazilian and jazz names while composing an impressive canon of original songs. In 1996, he released the Latin-inspired IntercambioCD on his own Good Omen label to critical acclaim
“A delightful solo debut. This small label effort is a certified treasure.”—Jazziz Magazine
“Damien shines on this exceptional...debut disc like the sun glistening over Sugarloaf Mountain.”
—Chuy Verela, East Bay Express “What a delightful surprise it is to see and hear Damien and his swinging Latin jazz-funk band.
He’s a remarkably versatile player.”—Philip Ellwood, San Francisco Chronicle
“Damien can rip through a melody or express a note. A rare talent.”—Songwriter’s Monthly
In 1999, after nine visits to Cuba, Damien recorded Cubacambio in Havana. Released by Good Omen, the lively disc combines his passion for world music, jazz and pop and features some stellar performances by local musicians backing up Damien’s harmonica and tenor sax.
Catch Damien Live! No disc can capture the excitement of seeing Damien and Intercambio in a live performance. Be sure to catch the “world jazz” ensemble at their next venue! You can find a schedule at www.goodomen.net.
Discography: Damien Masterson
Damien, Cubacambio, 1999 Recorded in Havana, Cuba, featuring Damien on tenor sax and harmonica on a wonderful meld of Western pop and Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Spacetime Continuum, Astral Werks, 1999 On the cutting edge of electronic music is Jonah Sharp, a.k.a. "Spacetime Continuum." Damien is featured on tenor sax and chromatic harmonica. He has also performed live with Jonah, opening for Carl Craig, Todd Terry and Fatboy Slim.
Kitty Margolis, Madkat with a Twist, 1997 With the legendary Charles Brown, featuring Damien on "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?"
Damien and Intercambio, Intercambio, 1996 Latin-influenced 1996 disc released after Damien's return to the U.S.—the first on his own Good Omen label. Features an all-star lineup of Bay Area musicians—Marcos Silva, Mike Marshall, Celso Alberti & Sandy Cressman.
Zerro Santos Big Band, Sao Paulo, 1993 Damien on chromatic harmonica and 2nd tenor sax with Brazilian bassist Zerro Santos' 20-piece ensemble.
Rad., Higher Plane, 1997 Featured on chromatic harmonica on the phenomenal singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Rosanne Delamonta-Kirsch’s third release.
Damien Masterson, Masterson Jazz Quartet, (1991) First self-produced recording, featuring Bay Area legend Ed Kelley on piano, Troy Lampkin and Carl Chelette on bass, Mark Lignelle on drums and Damien on tenor sax and chromatic and diatonic harmonicas. Includes Damien’s first recorded original, “D’s Position.” Recorded live at Live Oak Studios, Berkeley.
Performances Damien has performed solo and as a sideman at the following venues and festivals:
Biscuits ‘n Blues
Blues on Whyte, Edmonton, Canada.
Blues Cruise '98
Djavan – (Opening act, 1996)
Elbo Room, San Francisco
Festival on the Lake, Oakland
Fillmore Street Jazz Festival
Gordon Biersch Brewery, San Francisco & San Jose
Kimball's San Francisco
Lou's Pier 47
Russian River Jazz Festival
San Jose Jazz Festival
Sol Y Luna
Sun Valley, Idaho
The Jazz Store