If you missed Hailey Niswanger at this year’s High School Jazz Festival, then you missed some thoughtful words of wisdom. Only a recent Berklee alum, Hailey’s talent and determination have conjured up a great deal of success thus far. Returning to the festival as a homegrown hero and featured clinician are certainly milestones in her young career.
The clinic spent a great deal of time covering a common struggle for young jazz musicians: transcribing solos. She went through her two-step transcription process and explained each step in detail to the young audience.
Step 1) Memorize the shape and rhythm of a solo.
Step 2) Pick out the notes.
She demonstrated the results of her process by playing along with several Coltrane solos. Her attention to detail was impressive because she never lost the sight of the bigger musical picture; notes, rhythm, and, of course, tone all matched with the recording.
Hailey went on to share a more personal side to her musical thought process. She passed around her personal transcription notebook. Some pages had musical notes and others were simply filled with note names (C, G, F#, etc.). She didn’t bother to write rhythms — she simply memorized them (remember step 1?). Most of the students at the clinic flipped through her book, though for me it was exciting to catch a glimpse into the mind of another successful musician.
The clinic covered a wide variety of musical concepts: technical performance, solo preparation, musical influences, intonation, tuning, and so much more. Afterwards, I had a chance to pull Hailey aside for some more in-depth answers.
Dominic Florio: Hailey, having graduated from Berklee only a short while ago, what does it mean to be asked to perform and present as a featured clinician at the HSJF?
Hailey Niswanger: It means a great deal to me. My first exposure to Berklee was with my high school big band from Portland, Oregon — we competed at the festival in 2006. Our band did an outstanding job and I received two superior soloist awards. I was then invited to participate in the 2006 Berklee 5-week Summer Jazz workshop, directed by Terri Lyne Carrington, and then again in 2007.
At the end of the 2007 5-week, I auditioned for the college and received a full tuition scholarship. Berklee has given me so much over the past six years and I am very grateful for all of the exciting opportunities. I feel coming back to the jazz festival completes the circle for me, and I hope to inspire many up-and-coming high school jazz musicians.
DF: What are some of your expectations coming to this year’s festival?
HN: I hope to see students from a variety of skill levels, backgrounds, and gender all excited to learn about jazz, and really take advantage of all the wonderful events this festival has to offer. I also hope to experience a positive energy from the students, most of whom are full of support and appreciation for all of the bands competing at the festival this year.
DF: Can you talk about your preparation for this particular clinic?
HN: When I was thinking about what to present a clinic on, I thought of where I was at in that stage of high school as well as what material I found to help me evolve into the player I am today. When I was a high school student at the 2006 HSJF, I had just begun to get really into transcription of jazz masters so I thought it appropriate to focus my clinic on the importance of transcription and how it applies to personal improvisation. This is something I continue to do to this very day.
DF: Did you have any advice for students coming into the festival for the first time?
HN: Stay humble and show support to all of your fellow musicians at the festival. Don’t be afraid to express yourself and be original!
DF: What do you think you learned here at Berklee that contributed to your current success as a band leader? Also, having had a successful debut album, what are your hopes the April release of your new album The Keeper in April?
HN: One of Berklee’s strongest selling points is the institution’s high level of professor. All of my professors have given me vast amounts of information to expand my musicianship and ability to lead a band. I am very excited to release The Keeper, even more excited than I was when I released Confeddie. This new album includes a very exciting group of musicians and has eight original compositions and three arrangements. I hope that this new music will reach as many ears as possible.