According to a representative, McDonald “passed away peacefully on February 9th, 2022 in his home in New York City, surrounded by his family.”
A multi-instrumentalist proficient in saxophone, keyboard, and winds, McDonald was a founding member of the pioneering progressive rock band King Crimson, alongside Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Peter Sinfield, and Greg Lake.
McDonald’s tenure in King Crimson was brief, but impactful. His past experience playing in a military band influenced the band’s early sound, as did the Mellotron keyboard that he suggested they purchase. His contributions can be heard all over King Crimson’s landmark 1969 debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King. In addition to co-writing every track on the album, he performed saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, Mellotron, harpsichord, piano, organ, and vibraphone.
But creative differences with Fripp led McDonald and Giles to leave King Crimson at the end of 1969. The pair later released an album together in 1970.
In 1974, McDonald briefly reunited with King Crimson, contributing to their album Red. But before he could rejoin the band on a permanent basis, Fripp disbanded King Crimson, citing his disillusionment with the music industry.
In 1976, McDonald teamed up with Mick Jones, Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood, Ed Gagliardi, and Dennis Elliott to form the band Foreigner. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1977, was certified platinum in the US, thanks to a pair of top 10 singles in “Feels Like the First Time” and “Cold As Ice.” Their follow-up album, 1978’s Double Vision, proved even more successful. It peaked at No. 3 on the US album charts, and spawned two top five singles: “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision.”
Desiring more creative control over Foreigner’s music, Jones fired Al Greenwood and Ian McDonald from the band in 1980. McDonald subsequently worked as a session musician, recording with artists like T.Rex, Fruupp, and Steve Hackett.
Later in life, McDonald rejoined Foreigner on stage as a surprise guest on several occasions. He also reunited with Michael Giles and other former members of King Crimson to play music under the banner 21st Century Schizoid Band.