prestoncloseupBy Franklin Abbott

Don Preston was born into music. His father was a composer for the Detroit Philharmonic Orchestra and Preston began piano lessons at age five. By the time he was in his late teens, he was sitting in on jazz jams with Yusef Lateef and Milt Jackson in Detroit’s West End. He spent two and a half years as an enlisted man in Trieste where he met Herbie Mann and learned to play a variety of instruments so he could play in the base marching band.

After a brief stint playing clubs in Miami, Preston moved to Los Angeles where he became friends with Paul and Carla Bley. The three would often practice jazz together at Preston’s home where he lived with a menagerie including an owl he raised. He says the owl really enjoyed the music. Preston was playing jazz with Charlie Haden in a coffee house on the strip when he first met Frank Zappa. Zappa invited him to his home and Preston noticed they had very similar record collections: Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartok. They both had an interest in playing music to experimental film. Preston joined Zappa and his famous group The Mothers of Invention a year later and played with the band for nine years and most of their major albums.

After The Mothers broke up, Preston played for Leo Sayer for three years. He toured Europe with Bill Evans and became Meredith Monk’s musical director. He has played with many of the big names in modern music from Nat King Cole to John Lennon. His interests veered back to jazz and experimental music, leading him to create Akashic Ensemble and tours with Andre Cholmondeley and Mike Dillon.

At 83 Preston is still touring, writing music and recording. He says he can still play two sets of tennis in the morning and run just as fast as he ever has. He attributes is health and energy to movement, meditation, music and eating reasonably. He says its hard “not to do things that are creative.”

Preston’s creative process involves both starting out with an intention and then listening patiently for a small voice from within to surface when his mind is free of distraction. This is where he goes when he writes and performs. He says it has taken years for him to be able to tune in and listen. He says, “that’s the only way its going to come out right.” Preston performs this Friday night, Nov 13, at the Red Light Café. For tickets and information, visit
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta based psychotherapist, consultant and writer. For more, visit

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.