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Niswanger honors mentors, friends with The Keeper

WL native releases second jazz album
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO, West Linn native Hailey Niswanger's second album,

Although she's fresh out of college, jazz saxophonist Hailey Niswanger has already had an undeniably enviable music career.

In 2007 at age 16, Niswanger performed with the Gibson/Baldwin Grammy Jazz Band at a half-dozen events held in conjunction with the awards show.

In 2009, while studying at the Berklee College of Music, she joined the Boston-based Either/Orchestra as its first-ever female member, performing at venues worldwide in Chicago, Milan and Ethopia.

With myriad other performances under her belt, the West Linn native, now 22, resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is on her way to establishing herself as a solo artist.

Niswanger's second studio album was released April 24.

A follow-up on her debut record, 2009's 'Confeddie,' 'The Keeper' features eight original compositions as well as Niswanger's own arrangements of pieces by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Cole Porter.

Niswanger, a West Linn High School alumna, started learning piano at the age of 5, took up the clarinet at age 8 and was introduced to the saxophone at age 10.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Niswanger sticks with straight-ahead jazz beats instead of incorporating electronic or rock influences.

She said she draws much of her inspiration from jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Eddie Harris, for whom she named her first album.

Other sources of inspiration for 'The Keeper' come from her own family and friends, she said, who also lended their help with its production.

'Friends surrounded the project,' she said.

Niswanger was joined on 'The Keeper' by a band of fellow Berklee alumni, including pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi, bassist Max Moran, drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. and trumpeter Darren Barrett. A friend also recorded the album at his studio in Boston.

And, her compositions honor several friends and mentors who have influenced her development as a musician.

'The Keeper,' the album's title track, and the album as a whole are dedicated to the memory of Jeff Cumpston, who directed Niswanger in West Linn High School's jazz and symphonic bands and played drums in her band.

In 2008, Cumpston moved with his family to Zimbabwe to teach and was killed in a traffic accident there the following year.

Niswanger said his death had a profound effect on her personally.

'He was the first (close friend) I knew to die,' she said.

'Straight Up,' another of her original compositions, honors trumpeter Thara Memory, Niswanger's instructor at an after-school arts program she attended during high school.

'He really changed my life and made me fall in love with jazz,' she said. 'He was the first teacher that really started telling me the truth straight up.'

'Norman' is dedicated to 94-year-old Portlander Norman Leyden, a composer whose credits include writing arrangements for Glenn Miller's Air Force Band and for Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan. Niswanger first met Leyden when he helped her with a report on George Gershwin in fourth grade and has remained close ever since.

While her efforts in recent months have mainly revolved around recording 'The Keeper,' Niswanger books a regular schedule of performances in the Boston and New York City areas; she recently performed with Esperanza Spalding's band, subbing for saxophonist Tia Fuller, on 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.'

She will perform at the Saratoga Jazz Festival in upstate New York in June, and will return to Portland at the end of July.

Niswanger's 'The Keeper' can be purchased online at haileyniswanger.com.