An Interview with Melissa Aldana

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Melisa Aldana is a Chilean born tenor saxophonist, who performs both as a solo artist and with her band, the Melissa Aldana Crash Trio. In addition to being an accomplished solo artist, she has worked with Danilo Perez and was tutored in school by the likes of Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Frank Tiberi, Greg Osby, Hal Crook, Bill Pierce, and Ralph Peterson, and she studied directly under the legendary George Coleman. Today, I’ve got the one and only Melissa Aldana with us, and it’s a really enjoyable interview. I really enjoyed getting to know Melissa a bit better and I believe you will, too. So, before we dig into this thing, I would like to direct you over to Melissa’s website, where you can learn more about her work and artistry (link here). Melissa has an album out. It’s called Visions and it’s fantastic. You can learn more via her website and you can purchase a copy on vinyl here via her Bandcamp. Once you’ve done that, give this interview a read. Enjoy.

Andrew:
Melissa, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Melissa:
I’ve been doing a lot of personal work to be honest. This has really been the time to think, to grow up, to accept things, and at the same time, I’ve been taking the time to see a deeper meaning in regards to music. I’ve been trying to grow, trying to get better, trying to figure out things on a much deeper level. So, this year has basically been about a lot of personal growth.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Melissa:
I come from a musical family. My father is a saxophone player, and my grandfather was a saxophone player. So, I grew up listening to music and seeing them play all the time at home. At the age of 6, I took up the saxophone and my father was my main teacher until I went to Berklee.

Andrew:
As an artist and saxophonist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

Melissa:
Well, my father made me fall in love with Charlie Parker and then as I was growing up, I was really into Sonny Rollins, Mark Turner, Michael Brecker, Benny Golson, but I think that Sonny was my deepest love as I was growing up, and then Mark Turner later on.

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Andrew:
You born in Santiago, Chile, right? What’s the Jazz like there? Is Jazz very accessible there? How has being from Chile informed your work as an artist?

Melissa:
I think that being from Chile is just part of the experience and who I am, you know? I don’t take much influence from Chile in terms of my music, but I grew around my father, who taught me about Jazz when I was very young. I grew up listening to Charlie Parker. So, I think being from Chile just makes me who I am…it’s a part of who I am and my experiences, which makes me different than other people on a personal level.

Andrew:
Your father is Marcos Aldana, also a professional saxophonist. How much on influence has he been on you musically?

Melissa:
I am not very close to him. He was a very good teacher, which is one thing I am very thankful for. He gave me the tools to be the person I am these days.

Andrew:
In 2012, you formed Melisa Aldana & Crash Trio which has featured Francisco Mela on drums early on and later Jochen Rueckert, as well as Pablo Menares on bass. Tell us how the group came together. How different is your work with the Trio from your solo output?

Melissa:
Playing with the trio is something that I wanted to experience sort of to grow up, and see what’s next. So, it was part of my journey to learn how to play with just a drummer and a bass player, to learn how to grow up. Musically speaking, I wanted to become more confident. I see music on a much deeper level, and I feel like when you play with a trio, you do have to confront a lot of things and become stronger as a soloist.

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Andrew:
Your last solo album Visions was released in 2019. Great album. What can you tell us about the recording of that album? What was the inspiration at the time?

Melissa:
Well, it was inspired by the personal process of Frida Kahlo, and the process of searching who she was through her art. So, it was basically an expression of what I was feeling in that moment- stories, feelings, visions of where I was in my life. So the album is basically about that…a reflection of my as a person in 2019, and my time as somebody who started growing up.

Andrew:
What’s changed for you compared to your early days? Are you a better player now than ever?

Melissa:
You grow as you get older, because, first of all, you keep practicing, but I also feel like experiences, especially the hard experiences, shape you as a person. And that level of maturity is connected to music. You learn more about yourself and understand more about yourself and they are both connected. So, I think that I am a better version of myself right now, which is something I am trying to do everyday.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of music in general a bit. In your opinion, what’s the state of the music industry these days? What are some things that need to change?

Melissa:
Well, the state of music has always been the same, just different context and different people. The one thing that I am happy about is there is more acknowledgement toward female musicians, and I think that is important for the next generation because there needs to be strong role models, which is something I understand now because I didn’t grow up with it. So, gender and race equality…sort of the basis on things that are happening throughout our society.

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Andrew:
In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by the never-ending barrage of social media. How has this affected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?

Melissa:
It helps. I use social media as a place for networking and just to be able to connect with people as well as my fans, but I am not really there for any other reason. I think if you understand that as a musician, or even anyone, really, then it’s a good thing. It’s an amazing tool, but to me it’s about exposure and not worrying much about what other people are doing. It’s more a way for me to be able to connect with my fans.

Andrew:
Who are a few artists, past or present that mean a lot to you?

Melissa:
Oh, so many! Sonny is one of them. Louise Bourgeois is an artist I really admire; she was a sculptor from France, who was an amazing women, and I’ve always been very inspired by her art. If we are talking about musicians, Mark Turner, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Maria Schneider. Then there is Classical musicians like Bach, who was a genius. There’s just so many people that have been really inspiring in terms of the way I feel about life and music.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Melissa:
I would say Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite is an album that every time I listen to it, it just goes right to my heart, to be honest. I recently got into a piece of art by Richard Strauss called “Metamorphosen” that I find extremely beautiful. In terms of Jazz albums, I love all of the Vanguard stuff and everything by Rahsaan Roland Kirk; I’ve always been extremely inspired by the way that he writes.

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Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Melissa:
Well, I am very passionate about a lot of things, to be honest. It doesn’t mean that I spend time on all of it often, but I think that playing piano, trying to learn piano and playing Bach is something that is very important to me. I love long walks. I’m talking about hours and hours of long hikes, you know? I write in my journal, and I actually feel pretty passionate about describing what I think and getting to know myself. I love cooking. I am extremely passionate about cooking and photography and visual art as well.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Melissa:
Well, I haven’t shopped for music in years, to be honest. Haha. But I’m getting into vinyl, so I was thinking it’s time to get a turntable for sure. It’s something that I would love…to just have a space to listen to music in here at home.

Andrew:
What’s next for you once COVID-19 calms down? Can we hope for some more new music soon?

Melissa:
Yes! I’ve been in the studio since January. I’ve got all new music that I wrote this year, so I am very excited about that.

Andrew:
Last question. In a world that’s been so confined by the constraints of big business and the alienation caused due to the internet age, how do artists find their footing these days? What advice would you have for younger artists?

Melissa:
Well…this is hard. I think that you should just do your thing. Don’t worry about what is happening outside, be aware of course, and be aware of yourself…understand yourself. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is to do what you love and feel passionate about and not take anything for granted, you know? Keep your integrity as a musician…that is the best thing I could advice, because everything else is subject to change. Life moves and changes, and sometimes it doesn’t go the way that we want, but the one thing we can be thoughtful about is tryin to do our best. That’s all we can really do in the end.

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Interested in diving deeper into the work of Melissa Aldana? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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