Born in Santiago, Chile, Melissa Aldana began playing the saxophone at the age of six under the influence and tuition of her father, professional saxophonist Marcos Aldana. Inspired by such greats as Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley, the young Aldana began on alto saxophone, but switched to tenor upon hearing the music of Sonny Rollins. Her first tenor saxophone was a Selmer Mark VI that had belonged to her grandfather.
Aldana started performing in Santiago jazz clubs in her early teens. In 2005, after meeting the pianist Danilo Pérez while he was on tour in Chile, she was invited to perform with his group at the Panama Jazz Festival and encouraged to audition at music schools in the United States. As a result of these introductions, she went on to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where her teachers included Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Frank Tiberi, Greg Osby, Hal Crook, Bill Pierce, and Ralph Peterson.
After graduating from Berklee in 2009, Aldana relocated to New York City and began studying under saxophonist and former Miles Davis bandmate George Coleman. She recorded her first album, Free Fall, released on Greg Osby’s Inner Circle Music imprint in 2010. In the intervening years, Aldana performed at presitigIous institutions including the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York and the Monterey Jazz Festival, and released her second album, Second Cycle, in 2012. In 2013, at the age of 24, she became the first female musician and the first South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, for which her father had been a semifinalist in 1991.
Aldana has been a recipient of the Altazor National Arts Award of Chile and the Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award. She has performed alongside artists such as Peter Bernstein, Kevin Hays, Christian McBride, and Jeff “Tain” Watts, and at many festivals including the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, Vienna Jazz Festival, and Providencia Jazz Festival in Chile. She also performed with Jimmy Heath at the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters Award Ceremony, and was invited to perform at Jazz at Lincoln Center by Wynton Marsalis.
In 2012, Aldana formed her band, Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio, with Cuban drummer Francisco Mela and Chilean bassist Pablo Menares, who was a friend from the jazz scene in Santiago. Crash Trio released their self-titled debut album in 2014 on Concord Jazz following Aldana’s victory at the Thelonious Monk Competition. The group released their second album, Back Home, on Word of Mouth Music in 2016.
On Visions, her latest album for quintet, Aldana connects her work to the legacy of Latina artists who have come before her, creating a pathway for her own expression. Inspired by the life and works of Frida Kahlo, Aldana creates a parallel between Kahlo’s experiences and her own as a female saxophone player in a predominantly male community
This concert marks Melissa Aldana’s UChicago Presents debut.