(alto saxophonist, composer)
Being the first female member of the Grammy Award-winning WDR Big Band Cologne, voted among the Top Five alto saxophonists by the readers of Downbeat Magazine several years in a row, called “one of the most interesting alto saxophonists of her generation” (Doug Ramsey), “a player with great emotional depth” (Washington Post), and “exuberant and gritty…instantly engaging” (JAZZIZ), are only a few of Karolina Strassmayer’s accolades.
Her artistic journey has led Karolina from her native Austria to the jazz clubs and concert halls of New York City, around the world several times, and back again to the European stages and recording studios where she now performs.
Surrounded by a musical family, she grew up in Bad Mitterndorf, a remote village in the Austrian Alps. “What brought me to jazz, was a key experience when I heard Cannonball on Kind Of Blue. The beauty and strength in his music touched me more than anything I’d ever heard and immediately sparked my interest. It set a course for my life.”
There was no turning back. After completing her master’s degree in Graz, the Austrian government awarded Karolina a full scholarship to continue her studies at the New School for Social Research New York City.
While in New York she performed with artists such as Chico Hamilton, the Diva Jazz Orchestra, Five Play, the Duke Ellington Orchestra; played on five Grammy-nominated recordings, and was a featured soloist with the New York Pops Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Karolina carries the unique distinction of being the first woman with the Grammy Award-winning WDR Big Band Cologne, Germany, since 2004. In addition, she performs her original compositions with her group KLARO!— both in the USA and Germany. With the WDR Big Band, she has performed with McCoy Tyner, Joe Zawinul, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Maria Schneider, Take 6, Mike Abene, Dick Oatts, James Moody, Maceo Parker, Chris Potter, Randy Brecker, Vince Mendoza, and many other jazz greats.
Of Mystery And Beauty (2016) is her most recent recording with co-leader Drori Mondlak. In their seventh recording together their vision has crystallized into an original and deeply personal sound. Strassmayer and Mondlak consider this collection or original compositions and solo improvisations to be their most powerful recording to date. “Beauty means different things to different people. But there is a universal truth about it, regardless of taste and aesthetic; beauty has the power to move the heart. I feel that it is my responsibility as an artist to search for those little melodic twists and harmonic turns that make my heart leap—in the hopes that they will touch the heart on another. Turning those tiny tugs and hunches into songs is a deeply satisfying work and witnessing them being brought to life by such splendid musicians as Drori, John, and Rainer was simply a blast,” says Strassmayer.