Dan Cavanagh

Dan Cavanagh

Pamela O. Hamel/Music Board of Advisors Chair, Director of the School of Music, Professor of Jazz Studies and Composition

Dan Cavanagh is a composer and pianist who has garnered numerous awards in both areas. In 2023 he was awarded the Social Justice Prize in Wind Ensemble Composition as well as 2nd Prize in the American Prize for Composition in the Wind Symphony/Band Category. He received a 2009 gold medal prize from the International Music Prize for Excellence in Composition, and in 2017 he was awarded a Special Judges’ Citation in the American Prize for Chamber Music Composition. As a composer Cavanagh has been commissioned to write for Latin Grammy-winning AfroBop Alliance, the legendary Patti LaBelle, and a wide range of classical and jazz performers across North America and Europe. He has released five jazz recordings as a leader, including Pulse and Heart of the Geyser on Seattle’s OA2 Records, and two recordings with Minnesota-based vibraphonist Dave Hagedorn, Horizon and 20 Years. His most recent recording with James Miley and John Hollenbeck was released on Japan’s S/N Alliance Records in November 2022 to critical acclaim. His music can be heard on many other recordings both classical and jazz. His film scoring work can be heard in the documentary The Beat Hotel, a film exploring the hotel in Paris in the late 1950s and early 1960s where the beat poets, led by Allen Ginsberg, lived and created much of their famous work.

Cavanagh continues to be commissioned and programmed around the world. His compositions for wind symphony and saxophone/piano are published by Murphy Music Press, and his works for jazz big band are published by UNC Jazz Press, Sierra Music Publications, and E-Jazz Lines.

Cavanagh has performed extensively in North America and Europe as a pianist, and he has also performed in Asia and Central America. He has appeared in concert with Grammy-winners Irma Thomas, Adonis Rose, and Joe McCarthy and a wide number of jazz artists across the world. He has been a finalist in the EuropaFest Jazz Contest in Bucharest, Romania, and in the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Piano Competition. Cavanagh is the Pamela O. Hamel/Board of Advisors Director of the Mead Witter School of Music and Professor of Composition and Jazz Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to his time at UW-Madison he held numerous appointments at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he served for eighteen years. From 2015-2020, he served as the Co-Chair of Region VI for the Society of Composers, Inc., an international organization dedicated to new and contemporary music and composers. In Texas, Cavanagh served as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Dallas Winds, a five-time Grammy nominated professional Wind Symphony, and now serves on the boards of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Cavanagh received his Ph.D. in Creative Arts from the University of Tasmania (Australia), where he studied with composer Maria Grenfell and gospel pianist Andrew Legg, and additional studies with jazz composer and guitarist Glen Hodges. He received a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from the University of Oregon (studies with Steve Owen, Randy Porter, Toby Koenigsberg, and Robert Kyr) and a Bachelor of Music from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, (primary studies with Dave Hagedorn, Peter Hamlin, Timothy Mahr, and Mary Ellen Childs).