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A New Saxophone Summit: Melissa Aldana, Nicole Glover, Lakecia Benjamin on Jazz United

nicole_glover_portrait.jpg
Cypress Jones
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Nicole Glover, one of three saxophonists featured on the new episode of Jazz United.

Thirty-five years ago, Joe Henderson released a pair of albums under an evocative title, “The State of the Tenor.”

Because February is Tenor Saxophone Month at WBGO, we decided to devote this episode of Jazz United to a similar concept. But we wanted to turn our spotlight on some emerging masters on the instrument — musicians whose dedication, proficiency and poise represent a vital new chapter. It so happens that all three are women, and their example (among others) upends some longstanding prejudices around the sax.

Chilean-born tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana has turned heads ever since moving to New York a dozen years ago. She captured first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 2013 and earned her first Grammy nomination for a solo improvisation on her fifth album, Visions. Until recently, she was a member of Artemis, the international, intergenerational supergroup that released its debut album on Blue Note last year.

Aldana’s worthy replacement in Artemis is Nicole Glover, who has been a fixture on the scene in New York. Her presence in another all-star project, Out to Dinner, and her work on Language, a 2020 duet album with drummer Nic Caccioppo, illustrate a strong grasp of both the “inside” and “outside” traditions of improvisation. We’re sure to be hearing a lot more from her soon.

Completing our informal trilogy, we have Lakecia Benjamin — an alto saxophonist, to be clear, but one who (as Greg astutely observes) harnesses tenor-like powers on the smaller instrument. As a native New Yorker, Benjamin received early training from tuba virtuoso Bob Stewart and trumpet icon Clark Terry, before going on to work with everyone from Stevie Wonder and Anita Baker to David Murray and Rashied Ali. She marshaled a multi-generational array of all-stars on her latest album, Pursuance: The Coltranes, which underscores the strength of her vision.

Jazz United is produced by Sarah Kerson. Our senior producer is Simon Rentner.

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Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.