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Hailey Niswanger

July 2008

Hailey Niswanger

Hailey Niswanger is a poised, extremely talented and hardworking 18 year old, who is heading off to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in the fall.  She took first place in the Mary Lou Williams “Women in Jazz” saxophone competition, earlier this year, and is touring with the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. 

Hailey started on piano at age 5 and describes herself as self driven, saying she never had to be told to practice.  In second grade she attended Willowbrook, an arts camp, and discovered the clarinet.  She’d heard her older sister mention the clarinet and liked the sound of it, so at camp she asked if she could play one.  The teacher recognized her ability and suggested she continue lessons with Clark Bondy.  So she started practicing piano and clarinet every day.  When she was 10, upon Clark’s suggestion, Hailey started on alto sax.  She continued with clarinet lessons for six years and has been playing saxophone for eight. 

Hailey attended jazz camps and workshops, including the Mel Brown Jazz Camp, saying, “The jams were so great.”  She was in the Metropolitan Youth Symphony for three years, as well.  Hailey gives a lot of credit to the jazz and symphonic bands at West Linn high school, and teacher, Jeff Cumpston, saying “He’s an exceptional, wonderful teacher and player.”  At 16 she studied with Warren Rand and Gordon Lee.  Currently, she’s taking lessons from Randy Porter and David Valdez, and says she learns by listening to Renato Caranto and Alan Jones.

Hailey says the real push came sophomore year when she joined Thara Memory’s band at Pacific Crest.  He entered them in national competitions and they’ve won many awards, including, most recently, first place from Essentially Ellington in the conglomerate category.

Pacific Crest competed at Berklee in ‘06 and Hailey received two Superior Musician awards in the combo and big band divisions, and was given a scholarship to a 5-week high school jazz workshop at Berklee that summer.  Hailey said she really got into it there, with everyone so passionate about music, playing day and night.  Hailey decided she wanted to attend Berklee for college, but was too young to audition.

In her junior year Hailey heard about the Grammy Jazz Band and submitted a tape.  She didn’t think she’d get in, not having heard of many female jazz musicians, so she was “completely shocked” when she was selected.  Hailey got to work with Phil Woods and James Moody, and the following year, Christian Scott and McCoy Tyner.  But the best thing for her was meeting kids who were incredibly talented and passionate about music.

After being heard in the Grammy Band, Hailey was selected to perform in the Jazz Band of America, a national honors jazz band in Indianapolis.  She was also one of twelve students to receive a full scholarship to the Vail Jazz Festival workshop, led by John Clayton.  The instructors were Jeff Clayton, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe and Lewis Nash.  She met pianist, Taylor Eigsti, there, and he invited her to perform at Jazz Alley, which was a highlight for her.

The summer before her senior year, Hailey went to the high school jazz workshop at Berklee, again, and this time she auditioned and received a full tuition scholarship for college. 

During her senior year, Pacific Crest was invited to perform at IAJE in New York.  Hailey got in the Jazz Band of America and the Grammy Band, again, and made it into the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, an elite group selected from the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The most exciting thing for Hailey was being one of five women selected for the Mary Lou Williams “Women in Jazz” saxophone competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, in May.  It’s open to any woman anywhere in the world without a recording contract.  She prepared five pieces and competed with women, all in their 20’s, and won first place.  Winning entitles her to headline next year’s MLW Jazz Festival with her own band.  She credits Randy Porter, David Valdez and Thara Memory for getting her ready and helping with arrangements of originals.

Hailey has learned a lot from famous professional musicians, but says she respects all the players around here and learns from her peers, as well. 

Hailey is performing with NGJO at the North Sea Jazz Festival and will return for a farewell concert before heading to college.  She plans to study jazz performance, and perhaps composition or education.  She’s working at Willowbrook this summer, teaching piano and saxophone and says, “It’s amazing to watch them get it, and to see their faces light up.”  Just like hers did.

See Hailey before she leaves, at Jimmy Mak’s, August 9th, 8-9:15 pm, and at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival, August 16th, 2:30-3:15 pm.  www.myspace.com/haileyniswanger

Pam Jones


Copyright 2008, Jazz Society of Oregon