Jun 28, 2012
I first heard Hailey Niswanger when she played the Gazebo Stage at the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival two years ago. Barely out of her teens, she played with great poise and elegance, using her alto sax to lay out long, lyrical solos and leading a quartet with great aplomb. The audience loved her.
Two years later, as the festival celebrates the various acts that graced the Gazebo Stage with return gigs, Hailey is one of the acts I will most want to see. Her latest CD, The Keeper, shows she has grown as a player and composer, and her tight band is well worth a listen.
Originally from Portland, Oregon (as is her peer Esperanza Spalding, who is also on the bill in Saratoga), Hailey has made a name for herself while at Berklee in Boston. In fact, her recording band - Michael Palma on piano, Greg Chaplin on bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums – are all fellow Berklee alums. Proficient on alto and soprano sax, clarinet and flute, her sound is perfect for a sunny summer afternoon – languid, lovely and full of expression and optimism.
Hailey is one of five acts making a return engagement each day. On Saturday, Hailey kicks things off at noon, followed by the Jeremy Pelt Quintet, Catherine Russell, Mario Abney & the Abney Effect, and Pedrito Martinez. Sunday will feature Edmar Castaneda, Sachal Vasandani, the Steve Kroon Sextet, the Trio of Oz featuring Omar Hakim & Rachel Z and the Brian Mitchell Group.
I talked with Hailey about her new CD, the joins of playing in Saratoga Springs, and where she hopes her musical talents will take her. Click here to listen to the conversation, along with musical selections, including:
Hailey Niswanger – “Straight Up” from The Keeper. The song is written for onetime Eddie Harris trumpeter Dr. Thara Memory, Niswanger’s instructor at an afterschool arts program during her high school days, who she says always told her things they way they were, and helped mold her into a musician.
Hailey Niswanger – Title Track from The Keeper. One of several “dedication” tracks on the CD, this one (and the entire CD) is for her late high school band director Jeff Cumpston, who lost his life in an accident in Zimbabwe a year after he had re-located there to teach.
Hailey Niswanger – “La Mesha” , recorded at the Confeddie release party in 2007. A live track taken from a YouTube video, featuring her playing with Randy Porter (piano), Greg Chaplin (bass) and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums.