Melissa Aldana, a rising star in the world of saxophone and the first female instrumentalist to win the coveted Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, has said she doesn’t think about shattering glass ceilings in her career. The native of Chile, who attended Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship, just felt privileged to compete with “all these great young musicians.”
Aldana began playing alto saxophone at age 6 under the tutelage of her father; she soon moved to tenor sax, the instrument her grandfather, who performed in Europe in the ‘50s, was known for. To this day, she performs with his Selmer Mark VI tenor.
Aldana came to Berklee in 2007 under the mentorship of the tenor sax great George Garzone. In 2009, she moved to New York, apprenticing with jazz giants such as George Coleman and Greg Osby. After winning the Monk Competition in 2013 and others, such as the Martin E. Segal Award from Jazz at Lincoln Center and several Chilean national arts prizes, Aldana established her own trio. Her 2014 album, Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio, was followed by an early 2016 album honoring her hero, Sonny Rollins. That album, Back Home, has tracks written by Aldana, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Jochen Rueckert as well as renditions of classics such as the Weill/Gershwin ballad “My Ship.”
Still in her 20s, Aldana and her group have an active touring schedule, from small clubs in New York to large venues throughout the United States, South America, Europe, and beyond. She still credits Berklee, though, for helping her musical development: “Berklee gave me the chance to hang out with George Garzone, Greg Osby—all these great people—who definitely were an important part of preparing me [for] life and as a musician.”