UPDATE: This report has been updated to retract part of the final quote of the article.
Jazz tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana spoke to the News-Press fresh off of playing a weekend of dates at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York in place of legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who was absent for health reasons. The 26-year-old Aldana said the experience of playing with Donaldson’s band was “great.”
“It was a huge honor,” she said. “I’m a big fan of Lou’s playing and I was just so happy to have the opportunity to play with his musicians and play his music, which is something I usually don’t do.”
She may not have been playing Donaldson’s music regularly before that series of shows, but she’s no stranger to playing the music of legendary jazz saxophonists. That’s because she’s the descendant of two renowned, if not legendary, jazz saxophonists – her father Marcos Aldana and her grandfather Enrique Aldana.
In fact, she started playing saxophone when she was six years old after her father, who also taught music, needed someone to play a harmony during a lesson he was teaching. Marcos taught Melissa two notes on one grandfather’s alto sax, and she’s been hooked ever since.
“I played a few notes and I loved it,” Aldana said. “The next day he started teaching me and [eventually] I started learning solos, like Charlie Parker.”
She said they continued like that until she was 17, when she moved from her native Santiago, Chile to Boston to attend the legendary Berklee School of Music. She said that her experience learning from her father was the best thing that happened to her as a student of music.
“From the beginning he made me transcribe a lot of songs from memory and learn from the recordings of the masters and taught me theory,” Aldana said. “I felt really lucky because I had one of the best teachers I’ve ever had even after all these years of studying with many people.”
So when Melissa went to Berklee, she didn’t go there to learn to play sax – she already had a solid foundation in that respect. She went there to grow as a musician.
“It was a great experience. Berklee’s a great school,” Aldana said. “To have the experience of being around young musicians, I think that was the best thing to happen to me”
As soon as she graduated from Berklee, Aldana moved to New York City, where she spent her first couple of years frequenting jazz clubs, listening to music and meeting other musicians. She released her first album, Free Fall, in 2010 with Inner Circle Records. Her second album, Second Cycle, was released in 2012 with Inner Circle as well.
Since then Aldana’s been creating and playing original material with her band, Melissa and Crash Trio, which consists of bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Francisco Mela.
They released a self-titled album in June with Concord Music Group and are playing at the Kennedy Center this Saturday, Dec. 13. The last time Aldana played at the Kennedy Center was when she won the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in September 2013.
The $25,000 scholarship to the Monk Institute and Concord recording contract she won as a result of winning that competition are just some of the accolades she’s already received in her young career. She’s received the National Arts Award in Chile for Best Album and the Lincoln Center Martin E. Segal Award.
Aldana said that in addition to the material from their recently released album, her band will play a few new originals they’ve been working on. She said they’re really excited for this weekend’s concert.
“I’m really excited to be going back to D.C. and I know it’s going to be a great concert,” she said.
• For more information about Melissa Aldana, visit melissaaldana.com.