Star-Filled Lineup Also Includes Samara Joy, Joey Alexander, and Maria Schneider
Originally published in Jersey Jazz - Reprinted by permission of the New Jersey Jazz Society
When tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leads a quartet on Friday, June 16 as part of the McCarter Theatre Jazz in June series, the program will be “a mix of some old things and some new things, and some things we didn’t even record.”
The “old things” will be from 12 Stars, Aldana’s first Blue Note album, released in January 2022. The “new things” will be from a second Blue Note album, recently recorded, which will be released in March 2024. “I’m not sure about the title yet,” she added.
The 34-year-old Aldana was interviewed by Jersey Jazz two years ago, just after her Blue Note signing was announced (Jersey Jazz, June 2021). She was just beginning to resume live, in-person performances with her quartet, which includes Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund, drummer Kush Abadey, and bassist Pablo Menares. Lund is currently in Norway, so Aldana, Abadey, and Menares will be joined at the McCarter concert and other June performances by pianist Lex Korten.
The music on 12 Stars was a collaboration between Aldana and Lund. Reviewing the album for AllMusic, Matt Collar wrote, “There’s a warm, cocoon-like quality to Aldana’s compositions as she envelops herself and her audience in shimmering tonal cascades . . . Aldana plays with an easy warmth that belies just how athletic and harmonically adept her improvisational skills are. With 12 Stars, Aldana puts all of her colorful sonic and emotional textures on display.” Added Stereophile Magazine: “There may have never been a major tenor player who shouts less and who sounds less egocentric than Aldana. The music is contemplative and searching, even grasping. Its quietude at the moment is deep, yet its intensity burns like an underground fire. Her horn is the voice of her heart.”
Aldana’s quartet will be performing in Brazil in July, “and we’re doing some South American tours in September,” she said. She’s also performing as a special guest with a big band at the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland in July. And the quartet will be at the Detroit Jazz Festival in September.
The future Blue Note release, she added, “is the newest thing. But everything is just an extension of what I’ve been doing these past few years.” That includes winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 2013, performing with Renee Rosnes’ Artemis band at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2018, and receiving a Grammy nomination for her composition, “Elsewhere” on her 2019 Motema Music album, Visions.
When Aldana was signed by Blue Note in 2021, Don Was, the label’s president, said, “Her vibrant artistic vision, mastery of her instrument, and her deep groove make Ms. Aldana a perfect exponent of the Blue Note ethos.”
Joining Aldana on the Jazz in June schedule will be Grammy-winning vocalist Samara Joy (June 2), pianist Chucho Valdes and multi-reedist Paquito D’Rivera (June 9), pianist Joey Alexander (June 10), and the Maria Schneider Orchestra (June 17). There will also be a special family concert, the morning of June 3, featuring clarinetist/composer Oran Etkin.
Joy comes to Princeton on the heels of two big Grammy wins this year -- Best Jazz Vocal Album for her September 2022 Verve recording, Linger Awhile; and for Best New Artist (regardless of category). Linger Awhile received well-deserved universal praise in the music media. London Jazz News’ Adam Sieff described it as “a classic sound that could have been recorded anytime since Norman Granz founded Verve in 1956,” adding that, “Samara Joy sings some of the best jazz music you can hear today.”
AllMusic’s Matt Pierson wrote, “Joy brings a dusky warmth to standards like ‘Guess Who I Saw Today,’ ‘Misty,’ and an achingly slow rendition of ‘I'm Confessin' (That I Love You).’ Particularly notable is her vocalese take on trumpeter Fats Navarro's ‘Nostalgia,’ for which she wrote her own romantic lyrics, including some for the legendary bebop trumpeter's original 1947 solo.”
When I interviewed Joy for the July/August 2021 issue of Jersey Jazz, it was more than 1 ½ years after she won the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, aka The Sassy Awards, in November 2019. The promotional efforts and performance schedule that would normally have followed that honor were delayed by Covid; and she was embarking on a performance schedule that included the Umbria (Italy) Jazz Festival, William Paterson’s Summer Jazz Series, Philadelphia’s South Jazz Kitchen, the Jazz Forum in Tarrytown, NY, and a CD release party at the Jazz Gallery for her first album, Samara Joy, on the Whirlwind Recordings label.
Joy talked to me about some of the standards she selected for Samara Joy. One was the Jimmy Sherman/Jimmy Davis/Ram Ramirez song, “Lover Man”, which she discovered when she was studying at SUNY Purchase’s Conservatory of Music. She was looking up videos when she came across Sarah Vaughan’s live performance of it. “When I heard the way she was singing the song, the way she interpreted the song, it made the story so much clearer,” Joy said, adding that, “the songs I sing have to tell stories. Otherwise, you’re just singing a bunch of notes.”
Other songs on Samara Joy include Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, Jimmy Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful”, and “If You’d Stay the Way I Dream About You” (Arthur Herzog, Jr./Irene Kitching). “Stardust”, she said, “is just one of those songs you have to sing. It must be one of the most recorded standards.” She found “But Beautiful” and “If You’d Stay the Way I Dream About You” on Torchy, a 1956 Decca album by Carmen McRae.
Joy’s success was probably not surprising to pianist Peter Malinverni, who is Associate Professor, Jazz Studies, Piano, at SUNY Purchase. When I interviewed him in 2021, he said Joy “is lit from within and sings as the vessel for joy that she truly is.”
Valdes and D’Rivera released an album called Chucho Valdes/Paquito D’Rivera Reunion Sextet on the Sunnyside Records label in July 2022. Calling them, “Two of the brightest stars in the Cuban firmament,” DownBeat’s Paul de Barros wrote that the album, “bursts with ebullient abandon as well as the heart-on-sleeve candor of old friends reuniting in their autumn years.”
In 2013, the 10-year-old Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander was invited by Wynton Marsalis to perform at a Jazz at Lincoln Center Gala. Alexander subsequently moved to New York City and released his debut album, My Favorite Things, in 2015 on Motema Music. His sixth album, Origin, all original compositions, was released in July 2022 on the Mack Avenue label. Peter Jones, reviewing it for AllAboutJazz, wrote that Alexander, “demonstrates a growing emotional maturity that has added depth to his playing and thoughtfulness to his compositions.”
National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Maria Schneider has won seven Grammy Awards and has been nominated for 14. Her latest album, Data Lords (ArtistShare: 2020) garnered two Grammys, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and was named Jazz Album of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and National Public Radio. Reviewing the album for London Jazz News, Mike Collins said, “Schneider’s writing is remarkable; the performance she conjures with the orchestra in places is quite extraordinary.”
In 2011, clarinetist Oran Etkin won a Grammy with other artists for an anti-bullying compilation CD, All About Bullies … Big and Small. Etkin plays both jazz and world music and is the developer of a music-education program for children called Timbalooloo. His latest album is Finding Friends Far From Home: A Journey with Clara Net (Timbalooloo: 2019).
The McCarter Theatre is located at 91 University Place in Princeton. For more information about Jazz in June or to order tickets, log onto mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787.
The New Jersey Jazz Society is a non-profit organization of business and professional people, musicians, teachers, students and listeners working together for the purpose of advancing jazz music. Their mission is to promote and preserve America’s original art form – jazz. The Society seeks to ensure continuity of the jazz art form through its commitment to nurture and champion local talent, along with showcasing outstanding national and international artists providing for the younger generation via arts education programs.