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The Checkout: Sasha Berliner on Her Music, Her Vibraphone Heroes and a Call to Social Justice

Gaya Feldheim Schorr

Vibraphonist Sasha Berliner is mature beyond her 22 years, advanced in her ideas, and an original composer and improviser. 

On this livestream edition of The Checkout, she talks about her auspicious debut as a leader, Azalea — featuring an unusual seven-piece band with Morgan Guerin on EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and Lucas Saur on cello and Leonor Falcon Pasquali on violin. Rounding out the group are Kanoa Mendenhall, Chris McCarthy, and Jongkuk Kim respectively on bass, keys, and drums.

Berliner shares songs from her Azalea debut party, filmed live at National Sawdust during the 2020 Winter Jazzfest. As someone who attended that thrilling gig, seeing it again reminded me how good this young band is, and the impressive potential this ensemble will have once the world opens up again.

Our conversation covers her early years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she grew up as both a drummer and online fashion blogger, to her top three vibraphone influences. We also discuss how the American jazz school system needs a reeducation in the ways we talk about the African American diaspora, especially during Black History Month.

Sasha Berliner, who was a previous winner of the LetterOne Rising Star jazz award, will perform at this year’s ceremony, Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET on WBGO.org. Jamie Cullum hosts and performs, along with Terri Lyne Carrington, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater and others.

Subscribe to The Checkout on SpotifyStitcher, and Apple Music.

For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.