• A Young Jazz Saxophonist Wants You To 'Get Up And Move'

    April 11, 2015

    Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger's new album is PDX Soul. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Since she was a teenager, saxophonist Hailey Niswanger has been drawing attention in the jazz world, and not just because she's a woman in bands most often populated by men. Niswanger's alto- and soprano-sax mastery is captivating. Now 25, she's just released her third album as a bandleader, PDX Soul, and is preparing to go on tour with fellow Portland, Ore., native Esperanza Spalding.

    The funk-influenced PDX Soul, which finds Niswanger embracing heavy production and certain elements of smooth jazz, represents a departure from her straight-ahead jazz albums.

    "I wanted to show another side of my passion," says Niswanger, who points to Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis as models of artists who have moved easily among musical styles. "Maybe it's more prone for festival-type vibes and outdoor, standing venues — dance, get up and move."

    Niswanger says she sees an opening among her generation for jazz in the way it crosses genre boundaries.

    "I think jazz is starting to break into other areas," she says. "I know that this big hip-hop album that just came out, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, there's jazz all over the album. There's improvisation; there's jazz saxophone playing all up in there. It's definitely starting to cross over, and I think there might be a new wave of interest, especially for the younger crowd."

    NPR's Tamara Keith spoke with Niswanger about PDX Soul, the story of how the saxophone first called to her, and the unique challenges of playing the soprano sax. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • WBGO's Monifa Brown: My Sarah Vaughan

    April 10, 2015. Posted by Monifa Brown.

    Monifa Brown tells us how  Sarah "Sassy" Vaughan first entered her life. Read on!

    When I was a voice student at New York’s LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, I had this dream: I would meet Sarah Vaughan, and she would take me under her wing.

    I would apprentice with one of the greatest voices to ever grace the planet.

    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    Needless to say, that never happened. But to this day, Sarah’s emotive and highly textured, multi-octave contralto can move me to tears - in an instant.

    Her voice is without rival. It is transformational.

    With a single note, Sassy can create a state of euphoria: her spine-tingling vibrato and cascading turns of phrase can nestle you deep inside the bluesy harmonic crevices of a song.

    “Music was my refuge,” Dr. Maya Angelou once said. “I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness."

    I often wondered if she had Sarah Vaughan in mind when she wrote that.

    Here’s Sarah, in her own words: “When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder - and I don't even notice.”

    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    I have always gravitated towards music and musicians that elicit a visceral reaction, or emotional and spiritual awakening. Those are the musicians who transcend their art.

    They are the creative spirits who make you aware that artistry flows through them – it emanates from a higher source.

    For me, 'The Divine One' is such an artist.  Her voice is the perfect balance of yin and yang; it is the ebb and flow of the cerebral and the visceral, the technical and emotional, of restraint and wild abandon. Sassy's instrument is the ultimate voice.

    My parents played all of the great female vocalists when I was coming up. In addition to Sarah, they loved Billie, Nina, Ella, Betty, Abbey and Nancy.

    But there was one particular day when I began to really appreciate what I was experiencing.

    It started on a sunny afternoon in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill section, where I grew up: a few apartments away from John Ore, down the street from Lester Bowie and the Marsalises, and a few blocks away from Oliver Lake.

    I ventured out on a warm Saturday afternoon to rummage through Pratt Institute's Street Fair. I was looking for vintage clothes, so I could make some sort of Denise Huxtable-Gordon Gartrell ensemble.

    Don't laugh - yes, I liked to make my own crazy clothes back in the day!


    What I found was so much more. Somewhere between Dekalb and Willoughby Avenues, buried deep in a milk crate, I found a cassette of a Sarah’s 1954 Emarcy session with Clifford Brown.

    For less than $2, I held in my hand what would spark my lifelong affinity for one of the world's greatest voices.


    I remember spending hours in my room that afternoon listening to that album, again and again.

    In the days and weeks that followed, I was on a crusade to match Sassy’s impeccable and swinging solo on George Shearing's “Lullaby Of Birdland” note for note.

    If you ever happen to hear me playing this track on air, know that as it is pumping through the speakers at WBGO, I am once again trying to scat those brilliant lines.

    As a teenager, just beginning to understand heartache, disappointment and romance, Sarah's honey-drenched delivery of songs like “Jim” - which we hear above - spoke to me.

    The cry in her voice spoke to my soul.

    Sassy's flawless diction, irrepressible sense of swing and the sheer beauty of her instrument were undeniable - unlike anything I had ever heard.

    They are still unlike anything I have ever heard.

    In a word, Divine.

    - Monifa Brown, host of Saturday Afternoon Jazz

    Follow Monifa on Twitter: @globaljazzqueen

  • Singer Molly Johnson on "Because Of Billie": Listen Now

    April 9, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Singer Molly Johnson talks with Gary Walker about her CD "Because Of Billie" and concerts at New York's Jazz At Lincoln Center which celebrate the centennial of Bilie Holiday. Johnson performs at JALC April 10 and 11. Enjoy!