Hailey Niswanger’s trajectory as a jazz saxophonist resembles that of a shooting star. The young musician graduated in 2011 after studying jazz performance on a full scholarship. But by that time, she had already released the album, Confeddie, that prompted jazz critic Nat Hentoff to proclaim the 19 year old as part of the future of jazz. She had won a Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award in saxophone and played in a festival in Washington, D.C. after her first year at Berklee, and in 2010, she was one of 14 students chosen for the inaugural Berklee Global Jazz Institute class.
Niswanger, who was born in 1990 in Houston, Texas, and grew up in Portland, Oregon, began her studies in woodwinds before the age of 10. In her post-Berklee career, Niswanger has performed with everyone from Esperanza Spaulding to DeeDee Bridgewater to Harvey Mason to Wynton Marsalis to Christian McBride. Her own quartet has been featured at the Portland Jazz Festival and many others as well as performed at clubs in New York City; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and elsewhere. She has appeared with Demi Lovato on Saturday Night Live and on other late-night TV shows. Niswanger was also the alto saxophonist in the Either/Orchestra, touring with Ethiopian stars and playing African, Latin, and jazz music in Europe and the United States. DownBeat magazine’s Critics Poll cited her as a rising alto and soprano saxophonist for 2013–2016. A versatile artist, she also played flute on Terri Lyne Carrington’s The Mosiac Project, which won a Grammy.
Now living in Brooklyn, New York, Niswanger is active teaching at seminars as well as continuing to tour with musicians such as pianist Mike Wolff and drummer Mike Clark in the Woolf and Clark Expedition. She also started a new band of her own, MAE.SUN, a contemporary, mixed-genre project. After a second album, The Keeper, that showcased her own compositions honoring bop and post-bop genres, in 2015 she released her third album, PDX Soul, concentrating on funk and soul.
Watch Niswanger perform with MAE.SUN as part of The Checkout—Live at Berklee: