Alumni and Careers
Woodwinds Performance Alumni
Many Berklee alumni have gone on to successful woodwinds performance careers. Among these alumni are Mindi Abair, Melissa Aldana, Seamus Blake, Melvin Butler, Anat Cohen, Mark Gross, Antonio Hart, Donald Harrison, Javon Jackson, Godwin Louis, Joe Lovano, Donny McCaslin, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Branford Marsalis, Hailey Niswanger, Greg Osby, Bill Pierce, Mark Turner, and Ernie Watts. Below, learn about a small sample of them.
Fully charting Mindi Abair’s career as a saxophonist would be as dizzying as reading the long lists of accolades she has garnered. Having been a saxophonist on American Idol, toured with Aerosmith, appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, played at the Grand Ole Opry, recorded multiple albums, and received several Grammy nominations, Abair is at the top of her game.
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.”
When clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen is described in performance, “joy” is often the attribute mentioned. This Berklee College of Music graduate’s lyrical virtuosity and her habit of dancing, shouting out encouragement to band members, and generally having a good time are infectious. Her many awards from DownBeat magazine, the Jazz Journalists Association, and others attest to her talents.
Donald Harrison Jr. ’81 has combined a whirlwind career as a saxophonist with establishing cultural and educational traditions in his native New Orleans, Louisiana. Known for creating nouveau swing, a jazz style that combines R&B, funk, hip-hop, and African dance, Harrison tours all over the world and has many albums and honors to his name.
Donny McCaslin ’88 is perhaps best known as the saxophonist on David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, released days before the singer’s death in early 2016. But McCaslin’s life as a musician stretches back to playing with his father’s band at age 12 in California as well as to years in the New York jazz world.
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.
Careers in Performance
- Performing/recording artist
- Instrumental soloist
- Session musician
- General business musician
- Orchestra/group member
- Floor show band
- Theater musician
- Church musician
- Product demonstrator
Some woodwinds students also choose to pursue non-performance-based careers. For a more detailed look at the wide spectrum of careers that Berklee alumni enjoy, please explore our Careers page.