Saxophonist Melissa Aldana to perform with Crash Trio at Vermont Jazz Center
The Melissa Aldana Trio comes to the Vermont Jazz Center on March 28.

Saxophonist Melissa Aldana to perform with Crash Trio at Vermont Jazz Center

BRATTLEBORO — The Melissa Aldana Trio are coming the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, March 28. They will be performing jazz standards and original compositions.

Aldana will be performing with her Crash Trio, with fellow members Pablo Menares on bass and Francisco Mela on drums.

Melissa Aldana was the third generation in her family to follow the saxophone as her calling. Her father, Marcos Aldana, now considered one of the most important musicians in Chile, was her first teacher. She still performs on the Selmer Mark VI saxophone she received as a treasured gift from her grandfather, Enrique Aldana, who was her father's teacher.

Marcos Aldana's teaching method was based on transcription: learn the sound quality and improvised solos of those you wish to emulate. Melissa began her studies on the alto saxophone at the age of 6.

“My dad would choose a song that he really liked, so the first person I learned from was Charlie Parker,” Melissa Aldana says. “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.”

According to a news release from the VJC, one of Aldana's remarkable traits is her ability to control the finest gradations of sound on her horn: pitch, timbre, inflection. “She uses her mastery of a million timbres to great effect – sometimes evoking sounds that are dark and breathy, other times forceful and sinewy, thus enabling her to sound both 'old school' and modern, sometimes even within the context of a single song.”

At the age of 16, she was headlining jazz clubs in her native city of Santiago. When she learned that Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez was coming to Chile as part of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, she sought him out during the sound check. Perhaps this was facilitated by the fact that Pérez' wife had studied with Aldana's father.

After hearing her play, Danilo invited Aldana to perform at the Panamanian Jazz Festival and then helped arrange auditions for her at the Berklee College of Music where she was awarded a full Presidential Scholarship. In Boston, she studied with (among others) Joe Lovano, Billy Pierce, Frank Tiberi, and Ralph Peterson.

Upon graduation, Aldana moved to New York where she networked the rich jazz club scene and studied with saxophone legend George Coleman. She recorded two albums for Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music label and played along with Osby for a weeklong residency at the Village Vanguard.

In 2013, Aldana entered the Thelonious Monk competition, which was judged by saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Bobby Watson, Branford Marsalis, and Jane Ira Bloom. In the final round, she performed the standard, “I Thought About You,” showcasing her dark tone, motivic development and creative ornamentation; she also presented an original composition called “Free Fall.”

Aldana earned first prize. She is the first female instrumentalist to take first prize since the competition started in 1987.

“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 transcend gender and age. The most important thing is the quality of the music and what you feel when you hear it.”

Along with substantial prize money, Aldana received a record deal with the Concord Music Group, which led to a critically acclaimed album with Crash Trio.

During the last two years, Aldana has been playing and performing with bassist Pablo Menares (also from the Chilean jazz scene), and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, together they are the Crash Trio.

Melissa says she has 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.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates