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Experience the Zen of Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, on The Checkout Live at Berklee

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Courtesy of the artist
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Hailey Niswanger

Hailey Niswanger has appeared in the Downbeat Critics Poll for five consecutive years as a rising star on alto and soprano saxophone. But this Brooklyn-based artist, now 28, says she still has plenty of room to grow.

During our recent taping of The Checkout Live at Berklee College of Music, Niswanger explained that her growth, musically and otherwise, is inspired by the lessons of the Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Her electro-jazz outfit — Mae.Sun — gets its name partially from Hanh’s philosophy of  interconnectedness, a concept that can only enhance group chemistry in a musical setting.

"Thich Nhat Hanh refers to the sun as being our second heart,” Niswanger says. "It is the heart we all share outside of our body. Without the sun we would not exist.” 

Niswanger also practices the Buddhist tradition of visualization in shaping her sound, which is now mostly exhibited on the soprano. "I like to lay down and visualize myself becoming a cloud, and not be so boxed in by certain stereotypes and genres, and to really free myself from that, not only as an improviser and a saxophonist, but a composer too."

Hailey Niswanger and Mae.Sun will appear on National Sawdust’s Two Year Anniversary Showcase: The Revolution Vol. 25 on March 24.

Hailey Niswanger: soprano saxophone
Axel Laugart: keys
Andrew Renfroe: guitar
Aaron Liao: electric bass and synth
Nikara Warren: vibes
David Frazier Jr.: drums

Video: Berklee Video Services
Music Mix: David Tallacksen
Assistant Producer: Anthony Nieves

Recorded on February 21st at Cafe 933's Red Room, Berklee College of Music.

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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.