From my piece on Melissa Aldana in this morning’s Boston Globe.
Master classes by visiting artists are not unusual at Berklee College of Music — this, after all, is a school that boasts a star-studded faculty and scores of distinguished alumni. But there was extra buzz a couple of weeks ago when the 24-year-old tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana returned to her alma mater, offering an afternoon session in the school’s Cafe 939 Red Room. In September, Aldana had won the coveted annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition — the first woman to win in an instrumental category — and the master class, combined with an evening show at the venue, had the air of a victory lap.
Aldana graduated from Berklee in 2009, but her connection to the school runs deep. Discovered in her hometown of Santiago, Chile, by Berklee faculty member Danilo Pérez, she has since moved to New York and recorded two CDs on Inner Circle, a label run by one of her former Berklee teachers, Greg Osby. Her prize includes not only a $25,000 scholarship to the Thelonious Monk Institute (based at UCLA) but also a recording contract with the Concord Music Group. To the Berklee crowd, she’s a role model — as well as a potential employer.
At the master class, one student piped up: “What kind of guitar player would you want in your band if you were to hire one?”
“I would want a guitar player who plays better than me,” Aldana answered. “That’s the best way to learn.”