Sasha Berliner is a musician, composer, producer, and band leader originally from San Francisco, CA — and an alumna of SJW’s summer jazz immersion programs. She returns to SJW this summer as a faculty artist for the first time, and she makes her debut at the Stanford Jazz Festival on July 2, performing with noted drummer and SJW alumnus Dr. Jaz Sawyer.
A rock drummer turned vibraphonist, Sasha was first introduced to the instrument through her high school Oakland School for the Arts as part of the jazz program. While she had multi-faceted interests throughout her adolescence that spanned academia and the arts (for example, Sasha is still an active literary writer), the vibraphone swept the lead in becoming her life passion.
She moved to New York City in 2016 to attend the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and study under acclaimed vibraphonist Stefon Harris, and was recommended to Stefon personally when trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire heard her at Stanford Jazz Workshop while she was still in high school. Harris’ influence — in particular with regard to harmony — is something that she felt was “nearly prophetic” in helping her liberate her unique style on the instrument.
In 2017, Sasha attended Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, run by pianist Vijay Iyer and future collaborator drummer-composer Tyshawn Sorey, on the program’s full scholarship, Sasha was the also first US recipient of the LetterOne “Rising Stars” Jazz Award, where she headlined 10 jazz festivals throughout the U.S. and Canada. This gave Sasha her her first official foray in to touring as a band leader and facilitated the creation of her debut album.
The alternative jazz album, “Azalea” (2019), was subsequently nominated for JazzTimes 2019 Readers’ Poll’s “Best New Release” and has been described as “shimmering and thoughtful” (Kassel, TIDAL), “gleefully exploring various genres and headspaces” (Tremblay, CTEBCM). The record takes on a trans-genre, politically charged, jazz-alternative sound, employing digital effects, synths, audio speech samples, and strings in the soundscape, a product of her diverse musical background and influences melded in to one.
Sasha graduated from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music with her Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Vibraphone Performance and a minor in Non Fiction writing from the adjacent Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts. Sasha’s music work remains primarily based in New York City, and she has gone on to perform at venues like Newport Jazz Festival, The Blue Note, Montreal Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, and NJPAC Prudential Hall. She has been featured by The SF Jazz Education Center, PBS News Hour, NPR, WBGO, and The New York Times for both her musicianship and her activism surrounding intersectional feminism, representation, and mental wellness in the music industry.
In addition to performing internationally with her own band, her recent notable performances and recordings have been with musicians such as Tyshawn Sorey, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, and Quincy Davis. She is an endorsing artist for Marimba One and Vater Drumsticks, developing her signature Sasha Berliner vibraphone mallet. She is a regular faculty member at the MalletLab percussion intensive, where she gives masterclasses and clinics. She has also lead masterclasses and Q&As at esteemed universities like MSU Denver and Berklee College of Music. She has also taught at The New School and Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy on topics of composition, vibraphone technique and performance, notation software, music theory, and ensemble based jazz and improvisational pedagogy.
Sasha was named the 2020 Downbeat Critics’ Poll winner of the “Rising Star – Vibraphone” category. She was both the first woman, and at 21, was the youngest individual in the poll’s history to be granted the win. She was voted in the top ten vibraphonists for the 2021 and 2022 Downbeat Reader’s Polls, sharing a list with vibraphonists such as Joe Locke, Stefon Harris, and Joel Ross. Sasha has commissioned works for Modern Marimba (Sarasota, FL) and the SWR NewJAZZ Meeting (Baden-Baden, Germany) as artist in residence for fall 2021, which resulted in her suite of music entitled “Tabula Rasa”.
Sasha has also been awarded grants from NYFA, Musicares, and The Louis Armstrong Foundation to fund her ongoing artistic endeavors throughout the inconsistency of the pandemic. These grants enabled Sasha to work on developing new music for her sophomore album. Entitled “Onyx”, the album will be released digitally and on vinyl with JMI Recordings in summer 2022 alongside Jimmy Fallon/The Roots music producer “Suga” Steve Mandel and Grammy award winning engineer Ben Kane. A fiery, dense, winding, yet thoughtful 43 minute musical development that gestated in just four days, the album features all-star musicians Marcus Gilmore, Burniss Travis II, James Francies, Thana Alexa, and Jaleel Shaw, and was tracked entirely analog to tape. She is currently represented by International Musician’s Network.