Keith Donald’s career in music spans five decades and began with a recorder performance on BBC radio when he was ten. He is most well known as the saxophonist with seminal Irish traditional band Moving Hearts, but his first love is jazz and he has returned to it repeatedly throughout his life.
Currently Keith is touring with his one-man show, NewBliss, and you can find more information on it here.
Keith was born in Co. Derry in February 1945 and grew up in Belfast. His father was a banjo player in the 1920s and instilled a love of music in both of his sons. When Keith was six his father gave him a ukulele. Keith’s older brother was a fan of Benny Goodman and played his records constantly, and Keith fell in love with the sound of the clarinet. His parents didn’t have the money for a clarinet so they bought him a recorder and eventually Keith’s school picked up the tab for his first clarinet, bought when he was twelve.
Keith practiced incessantly and it became clear to his teacher and his family that he had considerable natural musical talent. His mother bought him his first saxophone when he was fifteen, a Conn alto which he still has. In 1962 aged seventeen Keith played Mozart’s clarinet concerto with an orchestra and in the same year played the first Belfast Arts Festival with a jazz group, The Embankment Six. Unfortunately for Keith, The Beatles released their first single in 1962, heralding the advent of rock and roll in Belfast and consequently interest in jazz waned. Keith parked the clarinet, taught himself tenor sax and started playing commercial music.
Since then Keith has played with hundreds of artists, including, Noel Kelehan, Louis Stewart, Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan, Maire Breathnach, Ronnie Drew, Van Morrison and Vusi Mahlahsela. He has played recording sessions, advertising jingles and pit orchestra gigs, in addition to sold out auditorium shows, tiny jazz clubs and huge festivals. His musical career has taken him all over the world, from Johannesburg to New York and every major city in Europe.
Keith is also a composer for theatre, film and television. He composed and played the saxophone soundtrack for Neil Jordan’s 1982 film Angel starring Stephen Rea. Keith was also part of the team that won a BAFTA award for United, a film which was conceived as a commentary on the divisive issue of parades in Northern Ireland politics. In addition he has composed music for many BBC documentaries and a BBC film called Great Journeys, co-composed the soundtrack for RTE/C4 film Summer Lightning, and written music for plays such as Frank McGuinness’ Carthaginians and Damian Gorman’s Sometimes.
Keith is currently Chairman of the Board of the Irish Music Rights Organisation and of Burma Action Ireland.
“Keith Donald’s saxophone provided the most stirring moments”
– The Guardian (UK)
“Keith has his own style, he always makes his sax cry a little bit”
– Musiktidsskrifttet JAM (Denmark)
“…sassofono e cornamusa duettano forse meno, ma sono piu liberi songolarmente, specie quel diavolo di Keith Donald”
– Muchio (Italy)
“…instrumental pieces peppered with superb sax solos from Keith Donald”
– The Irish Times