James Casey, the beloved saxophonist and singer known for his work with Trey Anastasio BandMeghan TrainorBilly & The KidsPhil Lesh, and many more, has died at age 40 following a lengthy battle with colon cancer.

The news was confirmed in a post on his social media accounts, which noted that he “died peacefully in the early morning of August 28, 2023, surrounded by his wife and family.”

According to a statement from Casey’s camp, “James Michael Casey passed away on August 28, 2023 at the age of 40 following a more than two-year battle with colon cancer. He is survived by his wife Ayla Cobb Casey, mother Gina René Miles Casey, father Duane John Casey, sister Rachel Jean Cato and brother Stephen Duane Casey. Memorial services will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Nancy Langhorne Foundation and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance has also created a memorial fund in Casey’s honor, to which you can donate here.

“Born in metro Washington, D.C. in Takoma Park, Maryland, James grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and graduated from Desert Vista High School. A gifted musician at a young age, he attended college at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts to pursue a Music Business degree. James moved to New York City to continue his passion for music as a saxophonist, vocalist, percussionist, producer, composer and musical director.”

In New York, he became a fixture of the local live music scene, just as liable to be found attending shows around the city to support his friends as he was to appear onstage with any band on any given night.

Related: “A Bright And Brilliant Light”: Music Community Remembers James Casey [Photos/Videos] 

“Prior to his passing, James was a touring member of the Trey Anastasio Band and regular featured guest with members of the Grateful Dead, including Bill Kreutzman’s Billy and the Kids ensemble and Phil Lesh and Friends. Other musical credits include performance and/or studio work with artists such as Meghan Trainor, The Jonas Brothers, J. Cole, Dave Matthews Band, Wu-Tang, The Roots, John Legend, Phish, Anderson .Paak, Maceo Parker, Cary Rae Jepsen, Leslie Odom Jr., Roy Hargrove, Shawn Mendes, 5th Harmony, Lettuce and many more.” In 2020, he also launched a virtual concert company, AuxCord.

While many fans knew Casey for his saxophone prowess, he leaned into a vastly different style with his innovative early-2010s project, Animus Rexx, in which served as a live producer, singer, percussionist, and bandleader to a group of his talented peers including Justin Tyson on drums (Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding), Randy Runyon on guitar (Bilal), BigYuki on keys (Q-Tip, Talib Kweli), Reuben Cainer on bass. The band’s sound was self-described as “Soul/Rock/Electro/Blues. in a blender. with hot sauce. and bourbon.”

As Adam Deitch, who toured with Casey during the saxophonist’s time in Lettuce, wrote in post on Monday alongside a clip of Animus Rexx performing at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall, “To this day, that show was one of my absolute top 5 modern music experiences. He had the ultimate band. BigYuki on keys and Justin Tyson on drums among others. James was clearly the centerpiece/conduit of the band. He was on a small sampler rocking the coolest samples in real time with the band. Everyone in that band went on to do great things but this was a moment in time where things converged and created beauty. This was REAL NY. Where the best cats congregate and make music for MUSICs sake and to push boundries.”

After falling ill at Red Rocks Amphitheatre while performing with Bill Kreutzmann‘s Billy & The Kids, Casey went to the hospital to get checked out, thinking he had appendicitis. Instead, the doctors told him he had Stage 3 colon cancer. Casey first revealed his colon cancer diagnosis in September 2021. Immediately following the diagnosis, he sat out Trey Anastasio Band’s 2021 fall tour as he underwent treatment, though he surprised audiences during the tour’s final night at New York’s Radio City Music Hall when he took the stage with the band for the show’s last three songs. He later returned to the TAB touring lineup in 2022 and performed with Billy & The Kids in New Orleans in 2023.

Related: Getting To Know James Casey: The Saxophonist For Trey Anastasio Band And Meghan Trainor [2016 Interview]

In the years since his diagnosis, Casey’s presence onstage consistently took on an inspirational aura as he added new meaning to old, familiar songs, from his moving delivery of Grateful Dead perseverance anthem “Touch of Grey” when performing with Phil Lesh & Friends to his recent renditions of The Five Stairsteps‘ “O-o-h Child” and The Wizard of Oz classic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” with TAB earlier this summer in his final appearances with the band.

As bassist Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company, Allman Brothers Band) explained to Live For Live Music ahead of a 2022 Oteil & Friends show at The Capitol Theatre that served as Casey’s first full performance since his diagnosis, “You don’t know what show’s your last … so to see him face this … to be walking through part of this with him as we work together, it’s serious, man. It’s heroic and inspiring, and it makes the shows mean more.”

Following Casey’s passing, Trey Anastasio posted a eulogy for his friend and bandmate. “James was a magnificent soul,” Trey wrote. “His spirit and personality glowed. His playing was elegant, stormy, soulful and lyrical. He was a powerful and melodic improviser, and spot on when reading intricate charts. His tone was full and warm, his singing voice was beautiful. I loved harmonizing with James. His smile filled the room.

“I’ll never forget the feeling of jousting with James on baritone sax and guitar,” Anastasio continued. “We would make eye contact and just go for it, diving into waves of sound together. Dark, scary, blues-filled jams. He was a force of nature. It felt like being in a tiny boat together in a huge storm in the middle of the ocean.”

“It’s impossible to describe the deep connection that James, Natalie [Cressman], and Jen [Hartswick] had as a horn section in TAB,” Trey added. “It was a magical, once in a lifetime section. Deep bonds of musicianship and friendship. … James’s connection with [wife] Ayla was indescribable. She poured her complete soul into caring for James throughout every second of his battle with cancer. James talked about how much it meant to him. All of James’ friends and family will be forever grateful to Ayla. All of us in the band loved seeing the two of them together. You could feel the deep love they had for each other. My heart is with Ayla today. We love you Ayla. … We all especially loved the nights on tour when James’ incredible family would come to shows. I loved seeing them laughing together in catering, or at soundcheck. James was a kind, loving, talented, and caring person, and a beautiful friend. His family completed that picture. James will be missed by all of us who loved him.”

In the weeks leading up to Casey’s passing, a GoFundMe campaign was launched to help raise money toward his ongoing treatment. On August 20th, prior to pulling out of planned gigs with Billy & The Kids and TAB, Casey posted an update to the campaign page. “First and foremost,” he wrote, “I want to express my utmost appreciation and deepest gratitude for all your generosity and your support. Things have taken many turns and all have been unexpected but your willingness to be patient while I go through this process has been more than appreciated.

“I’m not sure how far I can go on as it stands and it’s going to take a lot of work to focus on just health, separating my life from music for awhile,” James continued. “For your prayers, wishes, strength, kindness, and anything else you’ve been sending, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will try my best to make music for you again once more. Thank you.”

In addition to continuing his creative pursuits amid his battle with cancer, Casey became an outspoken advocate for proactive testing for colorectal cancer, which disproportionately affects Black men. “I had no idea about colon cancer at all, I didn’t know anything about it,” James Casey explained during a March 2023 segment about his experience on NBC‘s TODAY, “and watching what happened with Chadwick Boseman, I mean, it hit everybody. … The thing about colon cancer is it is preventable. It is 100% preventable if you catch it early enough.”

In December 2022, James released a holiday album, A Little Something For Everyone, which raised thousands of dollars to benefit colon cancer charities. In the spring of 2023, he went on to release three singles in anticipation of a yet-to-be released solo debut EP, The Kauai Project, inspired by his time in Hawaii during the pandemic.

During the TODAY segment, he also spoke about how the lyrics to The Kauai Project‘s lead single, “New Bloom“, were meant to inspire hope for those surviving colon cancer: “No matter what problems come your way, you’ve got today. And no matter what happens today, you’ll be okay.”

“That is the mantra I’ve had going through this cancer journey.” Casey explained. “I hope that it speaks to the people, because it spoke to me.”

James Casey Discusses Cancer Battle On TODAY – March 2023


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by James Casey (@jamescaseysax)