When Hailey Niswanger comes home from Brooklyn for this year’s Portland Jazz Festival, she’ll be ready to celebrate. Not only does the saxophonist and composer have her own headlining show at Jimmy Mak’s on Friday, February 27, but she’ll also be celebrating the exclusive early release of her third album.
For one night only, Niswanger's new record will be available to Portlanders, “and then not available until the national release on April 7! PDX Soul features 17 Portland professional musicians and was produced by Grammy winner and Portland legend Thara Memory,” Niswanger explains. While she says her previous efforts could be categorized as "straight-ahead jazz," this one "is a straight-up funk, R&B, soul, jazz record—it was envisioned to make people want to get up and dance."
And she's enlisted a top-tier band of Portland players to bring the record to life onstage during Jazz Fest. “At my performance, we will be playing original compositions and covers off the new album, as well as premiering new music that I just wrote this week! The core of the band will feature George Colligan on keyboards, A.G. Donnaloia on guitar, Errick Lewis on bass, and Brian Foxworth on drums, but we will also have special guests drop in to bless us including Thara Memory on trumpet, LaRhonda Steele and Tahirah Memory on vocals, Stan Bock on trombone, and Renato Caranto on tenor—there may be some more surprises!”
Set to independently release the record on her own label, Calmit Productions, “I am very proud to say that the entire album is connected to Portland, from the inspiration of the original compositions, to the musicians, [to where it was] recorded, mixed, mastered and pressed,” Niswanger says. It's also dedicated to the dearly departed Janice Scroggins, who contributed keys to the record.
Coming home is also sweet because Niswanger readily admits that she often misses “my beautiful family, friends, green trees and fresh air! As well as the rivers, the food, the Portland music scene, driving a car—okay, so I could go on and on, but I am very fortunate to travel back to Portland nearly every other month! My favorite things to do are go on hikes with my loved ones, eat at Queen of Sheba, and jam out at Jimmy Mak’s”—which is exactly what you'll see her do on February 27. Until then, prep with her Portland Playlist.
Soul, jazz, funk, R&B
“I have released two albums as a leader, Confeddie (2009) and The Keeper (2012), with my third on its way! After graduating from Berklee College of Music in 2011, I moved to New York City and became Esperanza Spalding's first call sub for her band Radio Music Society and spent many months touring the world with her. I have performed with jazz greats—Terri Lyne Carrington, Harvey Mason, Wynton Marsalis and Ralph Peterson Jr., among many others—and currently I am a member of the Wolff & Clark Expedition, a band formed by pianist Michael Wolff and drummer Mike Clark (a former member of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters). I have performed on Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman with noise pop duo Sleigh Bells, and have been listed on DownBeat Magazine’s critics poll as a rising star on alto and soprano saxophone for two consecutive years.”
"Jat Mahibathi" by Yemen Blues: "Yemen Blues is an incredible world music band from Israel and New York with explosive percussion grooves and beautiful, twisting melodies. I had the opportunity to tour with them this fall and had so much fun learning their music."
INSPIRATIONAL AND INFLUENTIAL:
"I Thought It Was You" by Herbie Hancock: "The majority of my musical education has been focused on jazz, but a few years ago is when I really started diving into funk, R&B and soul sounds. Herbie Hancock is an artist I’ve admired for many years, who is primarily known as a jazz pianist who crossed over into these other funk and fusion realms. His album ‘Sunlight’ was very influential to me when I was composing music for my new album PDX Soul."
EARLY MUSICAL MEMORY:
"Rhapsody In Blue" by George Gershwin: "When I was 8, I started to play the clarinet. I was very excited about my new instrument, and my teacher, Clark Bondy, was wonderful and showed me so much music. When I was in fourth grade, we were asked to do a research project, and I can't remember why exactly, but I chose to do my project on George Gershwin. ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ is one of Gershwin's most famous compositions and I was immediately drawn to the sliding clarinet solo at the beginning of the piece—I had to learn it! We were also told to interview someone in person that was knowledgable on our subject, and that led me to Norman Leyden, a clarinetist and arranger, who was then the associate director of the Oregon Symphony and started the Pops series. Norman gladly accepted my request to interview him, and when I showed up at his house, the first thing I wanted to do was play the clarinet intro to ‘Rhapsody In Blue.’ He got such a kick out of it and taught me how to slide on the clarinet. It was the start of a very dear friendship and Norman remains a close mentor to me."
JUST CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT:
"September" by Earth, Wind & Fire: "This has been my happy song for so long! I love it. The melody, groove, juicy horn lines... it's a classic and never gets old!"
Mel Brown's B-3 Organ Group and Septet: "Mel Brown's B-3 Organ group just released two album this past summer that I love: More Today Than Yesterday and Ticket To Ride. I had the pleasure of filling in a few times for Renato Caranto (who is my favorite Portland saxophonist) and had a blast!"
Thara Memory's Superband
Tony Ozier and the Doo Doo Funk All-Stars
LISTEN TO HAILEY NISWANGER: "I'm Gone"
"This is the first track off my new album PDX Soul. After writing many compositions inspired by people and things I love, I decided to write a song for myself. It's about taking my head out of situations I don't want to dwell on and moving on to another state of mind."