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A Lot Of 'Firsts' For Saxophonist Melissa Aldana

Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio will be making their first appearance in Seattle tonight at Jazz Alley.

The 26-year-old Chilean saxophonist was the first female and the first South American to win the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition in 2013.

Melissa's father, Marcos Aldana, is a well-known saxophonist in South America, and her grandfather Enrique was a virtuoso saxophonist as well. She grew up surrounded by the sound and by the time she was 6, she started playing, too.

"I always felt attracted to the instrument, and the first time I played, it just felt really good. I never really stopped playing after that," she says. 

Learning by listening to the greats Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and Michael Brecker,  Melissa discovered Sonny Rollins and knew she had to switch from alto to tenor sax.

"I play alto and sometimes soprano, but my main instrument is the tenor. I feel more connected to it, somehow," she says. She often plays and records with the tenor saxophone passed down to her from her grandfather.

About the Thelonious Monk award, she says: "It was a big honor and I was so happy to become part of the Monk family. And it's been opening a lot of doors. I'll always feel proud about it, but I don't have the feeling that people just know me only because I won the Monk competition. I feel happy with the way people have been reacting to my album."

The Crash Trio is a pianoless trio, like Melissa's hero Sonny Rollins recorded with in the 1950s, as did Joe Henderson, Ornette Coleman, and, more recently Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman. "I love this kind of trio so much," she says. "One of the reasons I did it was to become stronger as a musician. I felt like it would be a good way to learn more about how to play strong melodies and be strong on the harmony by myself and be able to express whatever I'm feeling."

Melissa listens to other styles of music besides jazz: Argentinian rock, Brazilian bossa nova. She finds beautiful melodies and harmonies she can use to influence her own compositions.

What does she see in her future? "I see myself keep growing as a musician, practicing, developing what I want to say. Getting as many possibilities to play everywhere and with different people and get that into my music, and to keep playing with my band, too," she says.

"I'm really looking forward to my first time in Seattle. I hear a lot of great things about it. I'm excited to come there with my band, we'll be presenting some brand new music as well as some music from the trio recording."

Catch Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley tonight.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.