Courtesy of daddario.com
Jazz saxophonist Melissa Aldana has been playing since she was only six years old, which makes her saxophone feel like an extension of her body. Fans will get to see Melissa and her saxophone become one this Saturday with her band the Crash Trio, at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, hosted by SummerStage NYC in Marcus Garvey Park. Melissa took time out of her busy schedule this week to chat with FDRMX about playing as a child, forming the Crash Trio, and her love of jazz.
FDRMX: So you’ve been really busy, rehearsing and whatnot. Are you looking forward to the Charlie Parker Jazz festival?
Melissa Aldana: Yeah, we’re really excited the festival. Yesterday we were working on some new music. This is the first time we’re gonna be playing at the festival and I’ve never had the chance to play there other years for one reason or another but I’ve been hearing about it for many years so we’re really excited about it.
FDRMX: You transcribed Charlie Parker as a kid, right?
M: Yes of course. He’s one of my important foundations, and I did that [transcribed] for everyone. Actually, when I was six or seven, I took up alto for the first time, and played six years. And my dad, the first person that he showed me was Charlie Parker. So we used to spend hours and hours transcribing, learning songs, learning about traditions. So yeah, he definitely is one of my main influences.
FDRMX: How old were you when you first transcribed?
M: I was lucky that my dad really transcribed that way, but I was like seven years old or something like that. And that was all that we transcribed, I was seven and I thought that Charlie Parker was the hit of the moment, you know? And it went on like that for many years, so we – I really got into him.
FDRMX: How old were you when you wrote your first composition?
M: I used to work more on compositions when I moved to Berkeley and I started doing more things as a leader. Especially before recording my first album, that’s when I started writing and I really got into it. That was like six years ago.
FDRMX: So we’ll see you on stage with the Crash Trio this Saturday, how did you hook up with these guys (Pablo Menares and Francisco Mela)?
M: Well I know Francisco from Berkeley, I’ve known him for almost eight years. He used to teach at Berkeley and then I used to go to his room and we used to play duos and always talk about playing, but nothing happened. Then when I moved to New York four years ago, he invited me to play at this festival, and he invited me there three years in a row. Then three years ago he asked me to go on tour with him to Spain, and on tour we felt a really special connection. We were like, “OK, we need to have a band.” And we both wanted to a have a band where we had the chance to develop a sound, where we could work on tunes, and really put all our heart into it, you know, like find a concept together. So we were looking for a bass player and I thought about Pablo. I know him for over ten years, probably like fifteen years or so. He’s from Chile too, and we never played that much together but I always loved his playing, he’s one of the most amazing bass players and teachers I ever met so one day we played a session, and it happens that all of us speak Spanish which is great, and it also happens that we all love playing tradition, playing jazz – we all kind of have the same love for jazz. So we started rehearsing, rehearsing, working and won a competition and recorded the album and…. Now we are playing at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.
FDRMX: Is it better to perform jazz with the same people or does it help keep your chops in shape when you perform with strangers?
M: I think that it is great to play with everyone. Definitely playing with everyone will make you stronger. I do play a lot of sessions, and I would be doing some sessions with other people (outside the Crash Trio) which is great too, and I love jam sessions, which I do like every week. But the chance to have a band, which you can work on it, you can work with them. We meet up once a week for two three hours and have a lot of talking about music, about what we’re looking for, and how to develop tunes we know and that is really hard to find in New York. Or anywhere else. Of course this is our work and we all need to make money but we’re there because we love to play with each other and we want to make it happen, you know?
So I think that both things are important – playing with people you are not used to, but also having the chance to have a real band, to give you a chance to develop ideas, to grow.
FDRMX: What’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you onstage? Any nightmarish malfunctions?
M: Well I’ve never really had a bad experience, although I’ve been scared before I go on stage a few times. I remember I did my first big gig with Justin Juax in Mexico, like four years ago. Somebody else put the band together and we didn’t have a chance to rehearse in New York but he sent us the music and we did one rehearsal in Mexico, and that was really scary, I mean everything was far and I had a bunch of peers playing with me, many people you know I mean people like him, but it wasn’t that bad, and I haven’t really had a bad experience. Sometimes just when you get anxious before playing, but that doesn’t really happen except you play for like a monk or the Bishop for example, big deal gigs. But nothing scary or like a nightmare. I always enjoy it.
FDRMX: On your website you say,“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.” What do you hope people feel when they hear you play?
M: I hope that they feel like dancing and having a good time! I think that music is about that and even though, I know we’re playing trio I think that people need to understand what we’re doing. people feel what we’re doing and they see that we’re having fun, that is what we want to make people feel.
FDRMX: Have you had to face any obstacles specific to being a woman or a Chilean?
M: You know, I haven’t felt that. I guess there are some obstacles, you know you always have to prove that you can play, or that even from Chile you can play jazz, I mean jazz is not part of my roots. But at the same time, I feel like I’ve been playing for so many years, I started when I was six. I have played all over, this is my life, the saxaphone is like part of my body, but I’ve never felt anything weird about the fact that I am a female from Chile. I’m just one more musician who likes to play and likes to be here, loves the music and the tradition, and I think that I’m good at what I am doing, so people respect me and I think that comes through in the end. So I don’t feel like it’s been – how do you say? – a bother. But on the other side, I think that that is definitely positive, even though I really don’t care, the fact that I am a Chilean and a female – it’s definitely opened many doors. It helps to get to people just because it’s something very different, taking the good part of it is that it opens many doors and making the process faster to get out and to make a lot of people know about me.
FDRMX: You’ve been playing since you were six. What is something else people might not know you did as a child that you still do now?
M: Well, there’s not that much (laughs). [Saxaphone] is just so much a part of my life, part of my body and everything…. But when I was young, I loved different stuff. I always loved to cook, I’d go out and ride my bicycle which I still do, and eat watermelon, which is really typical of Chile, that is a tradition. Every summer people buy some watermelon and hang out with the family, and I still do that with my Chilean group.
FDRMX: Do you remember the first song you ever played?
M: Yeah because my father took me to a radio station in Chile called La Classica. And they wanted me to play because my dad was a saxaphone player really well known in Chile, he’d played competitions. So they were like, “Ok Melissa, you can play saxaphone…” so I went to the radio station and they made me play “Wait” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. I remember I Was so nervous, and my dad was really nervous too but that was the first time I appearance I had on a radio station.