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Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger to perform benefit concert Sunday

by: SUBMITTED - Hailey Niswanger is a professional alto/soprano saxophonist and a West Linn High School graduate.West Linn High School alumna Hailey Niswanger, 23, graduated from Berkeley College of Music in Boston in 2011 and went on to become a professional saxophonist in New York City.

On Sunday, Aug. 18, she will join three-time Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding in “Nothin’ but the Blues,” a benefit concert in support of their mentor, Thara Memory, and his American Music Program.

Niswanger has a long history of playing music, as she started with the piano at 5 years old. She began the clarinet at 8 and the saxophone at 10, and after dabbling with several other instruments over the years, she decided to focus on the saxophone at age 16. It was a decision that would influence the course of her life.

Throughout high school she played at gigs around Portland, and when she attended Berkeley, the college sent her to different venues to perform. Opportunities kept happening, and now in New York, Niswanger has a busy schedule of shows with other bands and at weddings. Jazz is her forte, but her range of skill is quite versatile.

She has already produced two albums, “Confeddie” and “The Keeper,” that can be found on iTunes, CD Baby and her website at haileyniswanger.com. These two albums are predominately swing jazz, but her newest project is taking a different direction — to funk and soul. This project is based in Portland and features a full band with teachers from the area. She wanted to create a completely different sound and reach a larger audience, and the music is reminiscent of ’70s or ’80s groove dance music.

For other aspiring musicians, her advice is to “listen and be humble.”

Even as an accomplished musician, Niswanger still remembers how much Memory’s program influenced her career. In fact, she fell in love with jazz music especially because of Memory and she was one of the first members in his Pacific Crest Jazz Orchestra and Combo program.

Niwsanger will show her appreciation for Memory through the benefit concert, which will help the fund the program’s travels, music and ways to keep the band going.

“Thara has a saying that ‘you can’t keep it unless you give it away,’ ” Niswanger explained. “I want to come back and help out.”

Another former student of Memory, Spalding plays bass and sings. She won Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards, beating out other musicians, including Justin Bieber. She also had Memory collaborate on her song “City of Roses,” for which they both won a Grammy.

This summer, Niswanger joined Spalding and her band on a tour, performing around the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Traveling is indeed an exciting part of being a professional musician for Niswanger. She said, “I love to see other cultures, bring them music from where I’m from and learn about theirs.”

Her dream is to have her own group touring on a musical adventure across the world, but her favorite place will always be Portland.

“I don’t get home very often, so when I do, it is so special,” Niswanger said.

She is looking forward to performing with her quartet at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland on Friday as well as the benefit concert on Sunday, which will be at the Gerding Theater at the Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave.

“Both will be fun nights of music to support local musicians,” she said.

“Nothin’ but the Blues” will feature a full program with a variety of funky tunes, including one of Niswanger’s own songs.

Niswanger’s gig on Friday at Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW 10th Ave., will go from 8 p.m. to midnight with a $10 charge. Reservations are recommended and can be made at jimmymaks.com. “Nothin’ but the Blues” will run from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. and advance tickets are $35, $50 and $75 and are available at tickettomato.com.

For more information about the American Music Program, visit ampjazz.org. To learn more about Niswanger, check out her website at haileyniswanger.com.

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