By S. Victor Aaron
Of our Terrific Ten, only multi-reedist Hailey Niswanger (pronounced NICE-wonger) is not yet out her teens. But she has proven her ability to learn quickly after first trying out a clarinet at the age of eight and her talent has earned her a full scholarship to the Berklee School of Music, where she recently completed her first year of studies.
She will undoubtedly learn so much more there in the next few years, not to mention from some great gigs awaiting her when she graduates. Yet, she’s already come far enough to share the stage with or study under the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, Christian McBride, Taylor Eigsti, Phil Woods, McCoy Tyner, George Duke, Maceo Parker and Wynton Marsalis. In 2008 she won the saxophone competition at the Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Festival and was invited to return this year as a headliner act.
If that wasn’t enough, she has also already recorded her first record Confeddie with a trio of fellow Berklee students backing her up.
On sale since the end of June, Confeddie presents Niswanger exclusively on alto sax (although she can also play soprano sax, flute and clarinet). With the help of her professor’s suggestions, Niswanger made some nice choices for the seven songs she covered, and threw in one of her own, her Eddie Harris tribute which serves as the title track. As an album, Confeddie is proof that Niswanger has already mastered many of the nuances of post-bop jazz with a saxophone style that swings and grooves with proficiency. The arrangements stick close to the traditional renditions of the songs, and give you a good sense of how she stacks up to her influences and heroes. Let’s just say that she passed these tests with flying colors.
Even though Niswanger has graduated from high school near Portland, Oregon only last year, she looks back as she looks ahead. She has spent this summer teaching piano to five to seven year olds at the same arts camp where she first picked up that clarinet. It’s a rare trait for someone to give back to the art form while she still has so much of her own art ahead of her.