Melissa Aldana began playing saxophone at the tender age of 6. After watching pupils come in and out of her home in Santiago, Chile to take lessons from her father, Marcos Aldana – a renowned jazz saxophonist himself – the young Melissa would pester him to teach her as well. Her father began teaching her by showing her how to play two notes. From that moment, she was hooked and was finally given her first saxophone, an alto, and her father began teaching her how to play.
Marcos Aldana’s teaching technique included a great deal of transcription. “When I first started learning, we were using cassettes to transcribe,” says Melissa. “My dad would choose a song that he really liked, so the first person I learned from was Charlie Parker. We would take one phrase, and listen. Then, I would play it really slow, over and over, hundreds of times, until it sounded exactly like him. I think it’s one of the best ways to teach a little kid because I learned everything by listening to the masters.”
Melissa’s adolescence was filled with learning solos of many of the jazz greats including her father’s favorites; Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and Michael Brecker. But, as she grew up, she began branching out and discovering artists on her own. When she first heard Sonny Rollins, she was so influenced by him, that she asked her father to change from alto to tenor sax. Melissa’s grandfather, Enrique Aldana, was also a sax virtuoso, and taught Marcos how to play. Upon hearing her desire to switch, Marcos gave Melissa her grandfather’s Selmer Mark VI, which she still plays and records with today.
By her early teens, Melissa was frequenting the Santiago jazz clubs, and by 16, she was headlining sets at the Club de Jazz de Santiago, which, at the time, was the main hub of the Chilean jazz community. Around the same time, in 2005, Melissa caught wind that Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Pérez was coming to Chile to perform with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, and was determined to meet him. Danilo’s wife was one of Marcos’ former students and Danilo was part of the faculty at Berklee College of Music. Melissa went down to sound check, introduced herself and, subsequently, Danilo invited her to play at the Panama Jazz Festival. Afterwards, Danilo was instrumental in bringing Melissa to the U.S. for the first time and helped to arrange auditions for her at both Berklee and the New England Conservatory.
Melissa was accepted at both schools and decided to attend Berklee. “I didn’t go to Berklee to learn how to play saxophone, because my father has already taught me how,” comments Aldana. “I went to grow as a musician, be around young musicians, and learn from the veterans.” In school, she did just that by playing with fellow students and studying under the likes of Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Frank Tiberi, Greg Osby, Hal Crook, Dave Santoro, Bill Pierce, Dino Govoni, and Ralph Peterson. She was also exposed to a great deal of recorded jazz music and cites Mark Turner and Don Byas as having a lasting influence on her playing style.
Immediately after graduating from Berklee, Melissa moved to New York. One of the first people she contacted was the legendary jazz saxophonist George Coleman. While still in Boston, Melissa asked her friend Emilio Lyons, the famous saxophone repairman, to call up George and introduce them. George had Melissa play for him over the phone. He liked it so much, he invited Melissa to come to his house and gave her a few saxophone lessons. Over the years, they became very close as George continued to mentor Melissa, introduce her to a number of fellow musicians, and invite her to sit in on his concerts.
Melissa spent those first couple of years in New York frequenting the jazz clubs, listening to music, playing, meeting people and of course, practicing. She recorded her first record, an album of covers and originals titled Free Fall for Greg Osby’s label Inner Circle Music, and, in 2012, she recorded and released her sophomore album, titled Second Cycle.
On stage, Melissa caught her first big break when Osby invited her to play a weeklong residency at the Village Vangaurd. Since then, she has performed in such prestigious venues as the Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Small’s & Jazz Gallery, as well as been invited to perform with her band at such prestigious festivals as Monterey Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz in Italy, Barcelona Jazz Festival in Spain & Providencia Jazz Festival in her native Chile. She’s also shared the stage with some of the greatest contemporary jazz artists of our time such as Christian McBride, Peter Bernstein, Jeff Tain Watts, Kevin Hays among others.
During the last two years, Melissa has been playing and performing with her current band mates, bassist Pablo Menares (who she has known for a long time from the Chilean jazz scene), and drummer Francisco Mela. Known as the Crash Trio, Melissa finally found her band, “This is the first time I have met people who have the time to dedicate to writing, talking about, and working on compositions.”
In September 2013, at age 24, Melissa won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, which was judged by Jane Ira Bloom, Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Watson. In commenting on Melissa’s win to Downbeat magazine, Bloom stated, “The thing that was apparent to us was that Melissa was a young artist, who, in addition to having embraced a great deal of tradition, has made important steps in developing her own personal sonic vocabulary. We all sensed that from her original music and in her interpretations of traditional material.”
In addition to winning a $25,000 scholarship with the Monk Institute and a recording contract with Concord Music Group, Melissa was also distinguished with the honor of becoming the first female instrumentalist to ever win the illustrious competition, which she recognizes is important, but would prefer people to see beyond her gender. “I understand that being from Chile, being young and being a woman makes me standout, but what I really want people to see is that jazz and music transcends gender and age. The most important thing is the quality of the music and what you feel when you hear it.” Aldana also won the National Arts Award “Altazor” in Chile for “Best Album,” and recently received the Lincoln Center Martin E. Segal Award.
On June 17, 2014, Melissa and the Crash Trio will release their self-titled debut album for Concord. The album was recorded at Sear Sound Recording Studio in New York in just two days. The album consists of originals written by all three band members and includes two covers – the Harry Warren classic “You’re My Everything” and Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now.”
Melissa Aldana - Presentación en Thelonius Monk Institute Jazz Saxophone Competition
Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio - The Checkout - Live at Berklee
La Resistencia - Memories of you - en vivo en Thelonious 2014