By Bailey Cummings
Published September 24, 2019
Saxophonist Melissa Aldana performed in Schenectady last Friday for “A Place For Jazz” at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady.
In the church, when Aldana walked by with her shoulders back and chin high, whispers of excitement rumbled through the crowd. To jazz-fans, simply put, she is a big deal.
Aldana, a tenor saxophone player born in Santiago, Chile, was the first female to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 2013. She was 23 years old.
“We’ve been around since 1987,” says Tim Coakley, the current president of the not-for-profit.
Through donations and memberships, the organization is able to put on live shows. General admission costs 20 dollars a ticket but students receive a discount, making ticket prices ten dollars with a valid school ID.
Each year, they choose the lineup together.
“We have this thing every January,” Coakley says. “About ten of us each bring two CD’s of people we’d like to hear and we play them and we vote on them.”
The members of the organization try their best to have a diverse schedule of performers.
“We try to set up a schedule that doesn’t repeat,” Coakley says. “We’re not going to have all tenor players or all guitarists.”
Aldana, along with her quartet consisting of Lage Lund (guitar), Jimmy McBride (drums), and Rick Rosato (bass), entered the Great Hall to cheers and applause.
About to begin, Aldana took off her dangling earrings. She means business.
The quartet began the set with a composition from Aldana’s latest album, Visions. The set continued with standards ranging from John Coltrane to Jimmy Van Heusen.
Mid “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”, Aldana grabbed a pencil from her music stand and twirled it in her hair, putting it up in a loose bun.
“We’ve had people here that are world famous people over the years,” says Coakley. “Singers, trumpet players, saxophonists, great pianists.” Such artists include Wycliffe Gordon, Steve Kuhn, and Karrin Allyson.
In attendance at the performance was student Joshua Nelson.
“I happened to be in the area for a wedding and I saw that Melissa Aldana was playing,” Nelson says. “So I said ‘I definitely have to see that show.’”
Nelson is a senior studying jazz at Purchase College in Harrison, New York.
“When I lived in the area I would catch as many shows as I could,” he says. “But now, I catch a show whenever I can make it up.
The non-profit helps students such as Nelson pursue educations in music.
“One of the things we try to do is to get our word out to some of the college musicians,” Coakley says. “Our scholarship goes to a young musician every year at the community college [Schenectady County Community College].
“A Place For Jazz” also helps to coordinate classes.
“Some of our guest artists go to the schools,” Coakey says. “And they’ll do a little clinic for some of the student musicians.”
While the demographic at the event consisted mostly of people over the age of 30, “A Place For Jazz” caters to all audiences, picking younger musicians on the jazz scene, such as
Aldana, to perform in their space.
“I loved the show,” Nelson says. “The amount of creativity and artistry was amazing. The group played really well together and had this internal drive that kept the music moving forward.”
Performances of such caliber are made possible through donations and the dedication of the organization's members.
If you’re looking to expand your musical palette, “A Place For Jazz” is the place to start.