Don Menza was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, where he began playing tenor saxophone when he was 13. He studied saxophone with musician and teacher John Sedola. After serving in the U. S. Army, he worked with Maynard Ferguson's Orchestra (1960–1962) as both a soloist and an arranger. A short tenure with Stan Kenton and a year leading a quintet in Buffalo preceded a period living in Germany (1964–1968). Later, he returned to the United States and joined Buddy Rich's 1968 big band in the "jazz tenor" chair, recording the famous solo cadenza on "Channel One Suite" (Recorded "live" at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas) that utilized circular breathing and has become known as a classic among music educators and musicians alike. In the late 1960s, he settled in California and performed in the bands of Elvin Jones (1969) and Louie Bellson. Other artists with which Menza has recorded include Nancy Sinatra, Keely Smith, Cold Blood, Natalie Cole, Pat Boone, and Leonard Cohen.
Educator and composer
His compositions, such as "Groovin' Hard" and "Time Check" (both favorites of Doc Severinsen's NBC Orchestra and Buddy Rich's Big Band) have become standard repertoire in jazz studies programs at colleges and universities worldwide. In addition to numerous recordings as a sideman, Menza has recorded as a leader for Saba (1965) in Germany, Discwasher (1979), Realtime, Palo Alto (the latter two in 1981), and Verve (GRP).
Voyage - Don Menza & the SWR Big Band. (2007) Label: Hänssler Classic. Personnel: Don Menza (tenor saxophone), Don Rader, Claus Reichstaller, Felice Civitareale, Klaus Graf (saxophone), Klaus Wagenleiter (piano), Marc Godfroid (trombone), Andreas Maile, Axel Kuhn, Ian Cumming, Joe Gallardo, Karl Farrent, Rudolf Reindl (flugelhorn)
Jack Rabbitt - Don Menza (sax), Bobby Jones (Hammond B3 Organ), John Bacon (Drums). Cadence Jazz Records 1184
Hip Pocket - Menza (playing alto and baritone saxophones) with Sal Nistico and Sam Noto (1981)