Julian Lage, Melissa Aldana and Marshall Gilkes Join New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Faculty

Mike Lawson • News • April 27, 2021

New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Department has appointed three internationally acclaimed artists — guitarist Julian Lage, saxophonist Melissa Aldana and trombonist Marshall Gilkes — to join the jazz faculty beginning in the fall of 2021.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Julian Lage, Melissa Aldana, and Marshall Gilkes to the faculty at NEC,” says Ken Schaphorst, Chair of NEC’s Jazz Studies Department. “Each of these artists has a powerful and distinctive voice. They’ve all made significant contributions to the world of creative music, while at the same time being committed to education and sharing their experience with others.”

Julian Lage

Hailed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation and “highest category of improvising musicians” (New Yorker), Julian Lage has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via impeccable technique, free association and a spirit of infinite possibility. The California-born New York-based musician boasts a prolific resume on his own accord in addition to collaborating with Gary Burton and John Zorn, as well as duo projects with Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge and Fred Hersch, among others.

In 2020, Lage founded Guitar.Study, an initiative designed to cultivate a strong and prosperous home for music educators and players alike. Guitar.Study offers online lessons, encouraging the advancement of all practicing guitarists through the lens of historical, technical and theoretical frameworks.

Melissa Aldana

Born in Santiago, Chile, Melissa Aldana began playing the saxophone when she was six. Inspired by such greats as Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and Don Byas, she began with alto saxophone, but switched to tenor upon hearing the music of Sonny Rollins. In 2005, she was invited by pianist Danilo Pérez to play at the Panama Jazz Festival, after which she attended Berklee College of Music, where her teachers included Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Frank Tiberi, Greg Osby, Hal Crook, Bill Pierce, Terri Lyne Carrington, Dave Santoro and Ralph Peterson among others. She has since relocated to New York, where she is an active performer and teacher. In 2013, at age 24, she was the first female instrumentalist and the first South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, for which her father had been a semi-finalist in 1991.

Aldana received a Grammy nomination for “Best Improvised Jazz Solo” for the song Elsewhere from her most recent album Visions (Motema Music). On the quintet album she 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. Aldana will be teaching at NEC during the 2021-2022 academic year as part of a sabbatical arrangement.

Marshall Gilkes

Multiple Grammy nominated trombonist/composer Marshall Gilkes integrates myriad influences into a singular and distinctive voice, combining the spontaneous invention of jazz with the elegant architecture of classical composition and virtuosic technique with passionate emotion. His sound can be heard in the lush impressionism of the Maria Schneider Orchestra; the unique Slide Monsters Trombone Quartet; and on Monday nights at the world famous Village Vanguard as lead trombonist with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. He has conducted his music with the WDR Big Band, UMO Jazz Orchestra, Airmen of Note, and Army Blues. He’s also performed with Makoto Ozone, Billy Cobham, Richard Bona, and Edmar Castañeda. A finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2003, Gilkes has released six albums as a leader. The latest, Waiting to Continue showcases Gilkes playing and writing in a trio setting.


NEC’s Jazz Studies Department was the brainchild of Gunther Schuller, who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became president of the Conservatory in 1967. He soon hired saxophonist Carl Atkins as the first department chair, as well as other greats including NEA Jazz Master George Russell, pianist Jaki Byard and Ran Blake. The foundation of its teaching and success begins with the mentor relationship developed in lessons between students and the prominent faculty artists. In addition to its two jazz orchestras, faculty-coached small ensembles reflect NEC’s inclusive approach to music making, with ensembles focused on free jazz, early jazz, gospel music, Brazilian music, and songwriting, as well as more traditional approaches to jazz performance.

Students are encouraged to find their own musical voices while making connections and collaborating with a vibrant community of creative musicians, and ultimately to transform the world through the power of music. The program has spawned numerous Grammy winning composers and performers and has an alumni list that reads like a who’s who of jazz, while the faculty has included six MacArthur “genius” grant recipients (three currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!