The deeply saddening news of the death of James Casey, a highly skilled saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist renowned for his collaborations with the Trey Anastasio Band (TAB), has reverberated across the music industry, leaving an indelible mark of shock and sorrow. The announcement of his departure was disseminated through various social media channels by Casey’s spokesperson and family, revealing that his valiant battle with colon cancer, a fight he undertook since his diagnosis in July of 2021, had come to an end. Amidst the poignant morning of his passing, he found solace in the company of his loved ones.
Emerging onto the vibrant musical scene of Washington D.C., James Casey’s early years were imbued with a profound connection to the nuances of rhythm and melody. The trajectory of his life shifted as his family relocated to Phoenix, where the initial notes of his musical odyssey were struck. His lifelong love affair with music ignited when, at the tender age of 3, he embraced the drums. A pivotal switch of instruments at 9 led him to discover his profound affinity for the saxophone, an instrument that would go on to define his artistic expression in the years that followed.
The echelons of James Casey’s musical journey brought him to the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he honed his craft and nurtured his creative vision. This period marked his ascent as a significant figure in the music realm, collaborating with renowned ensembles such as Soulive and Lettuce. It was during his time in Boston that he first crossed paths with Louis Cato, a fellow musician who would later ascend to lead the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Among the most pivotal junctures in Casey’s career occurred during Soulive’s 2012 Bowlive run at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York. Here, serendipity intertwined as he encountered trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick, a meeting that would eventually lead him to connect with Trey Anastasio, the illustrious guitarist of Phish. As a result of Hartswick’s endorsement, Casey became an integral part of Anastasio’s solo band, forming a dynamic horn section alongside Hartswick and trombonist Natalie Cressman.
James Casey’s musical brilliance extended beyond the realm of the saxophone. His vocal dexterity and keyboard finesse enriched the sonic tapestry of TAB, leaving an indelible imprint on the band’s sound. His absence during TAB’s 2021 Fall Tour, owing to his arduous battle with colon cancer, left a palpable void as fans longed for his infectious energy and vibrant stage presence. Yet, even in the face of health adversities, Casey continued to create music, sharing his journey through the poignant short film titled “Music As Medicine.”
In December of 2022, Casey unveiled his inaugural EP, titled “A Little Something For Everyone,” a holiday-themed collection that held profound personal significance. The proceeds from this release were channeled towards the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and the HOPES Clinic at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a testament to his unwavering dedication to raising awareness about colon cancer and supporting those in need.
Undeterred by the obstacles presented by his health, Casey persevered in his artistic pursuits. He meticulously put the finishing touches on his debut solo album, “The Kaua’i Project,” inspired by his experiences on the Hawaiian island as the pandemic unfurled. Though the album’s release was postponed due to health challenges, it stood as a testament to his resilience and unwavering commitment. Tracks like “New Bloom,” “E.J.B.M,” and “Outside” offered a glimpse into his evolving musical style earlier in the year.
In a deeply poignant sequence of events, James Casey graced the stage twice alongside the Trey Anastasio Band in July of 2023. During a poignant encore at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion, he stepped forward, lending his voice to the heartfelt rendition of “O-o-h Child.” The mellifluous notes of his saxophone once again danced through the air during the performance of “First Tube,” a testament to his enduring musical spirit.
Beyond his artistic contributions, James Casey’s legacy encompassed his fortitude, his ability to find solace and strength within music even amidst adversity, and his resolute commitment to raising awareness about colon cancer. As the music world mourns the loss of an extraordinary talent, Casey’s spirit lives on through his melodies, his advocacy, and the memories he engraved in the hearts of his family, friends, and admirers.
In lieu of floral tributes, the family has graciously requested contributions to be directed to the Nancy Langhorne Foundation and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, organizations dedicated to furthering the fight against colon cancer. Plans for commemorative services are underway, poised to bid a final farewell to a musician whose harmonies will linger in the air for generations to come.
Donations can be made through a dedicated GoFundMe campaign established to honor James Casey’s memory. The entire JamBase team extends their heartfelt condolences for the loss of Casey. He is survived by his wife, Ayla Cobb Casey, his mother, Gina René Miles Casey, his father, Duane John Casey, his sister, Rachel Jean Cato, and his brother, Stephen Duane Casey. In lieu of flowers, the family has expressed their wish for donations to be made to the Nancy Langhorne Foundation and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Plans for memorial services are in progress, with details to be announced at a later date.