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A Young Jazz Saxophonist Wants You To 'Get Up And Move'

Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger's new album is <em>PDX Soul.</em>
Courtesy of the artist
Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger's new album is <em>PDX Soul.</em>

Since she was a teenager, saxophonist Hailey Niswanger has been drawing attention in the jazz world, and not just because she's a woman in bands most often populated by men. Niswanger's alto- and soprano-sax mastery is captivating. Now 25, she's just released her third album as a bandleader, PDX Soul, and is preparing to go on tour with fellow Portland, Ore., native Esperanza Spalding.

The funk-influenced PDX Soul, which finds Niswanger embracing heavy production and certain elements of smooth jazz, represents a departure from her straight-ahead jazz albums.

"I wanted to show another side of my passion," says Niswanger, who points to Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis as models of artists who have moved easily among musical styles. "Maybe it's more prone for festival-type vibes and outdoor, standing venues — dance, get up and move."

Niswanger says she sees an opening among her generation for jazz in the way it crosses genre boundaries.

"I think jazz is starting to break into other areas," she says. "I know that this big hip-hop album that just came out, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, there's jazz all over the album. There's improvisation; there's jazz saxophone playing all up in there. It's definitely starting to cross over, and I think there might be a new wave of interest, especially for the younger crowd."

NPR's Tamara Keith spoke with Niswanger about PDX Soul, the story of how the saxophone first called to her, and the unique challenges of playing the soprano sax. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.