"Maria Schneider's orchestral jazz is about feeling. Like Wayne Shorter, she somehow expresses compassion through tones," says The New York Times' jazz writer Ben Ratliff. The multi-GRAMMYÔÎ Award winning composer/arranger presents her 17-member collective next month for her first Jazz at Lincoln Center appearance since 2003.
Born November 27, 1960 in Windom, Minnesota, Schneider first hit the scene with her orchestra in 1994 with Evanescence. Since then, the orchestra has performed at major festivals and concert halls around the globe, garnering at least nine GRAMMYÔÎ Award nominations and winning two GRAMMYÔÎ Awards. She has become known for her fan funding of projects through Artist- Share pre-sales, making her the first artist to win a GRAMMYÔÎ Award for an album not available in retail stores. Schneider received further criticalacclaim for her 2013 release, Winter Morning Walks.
We caught up with Schneider on her busy schedule, just back from the orchestra's performance in Tokyo, Japan. Schneider's enthusiasm shines through: "The reason I love writing for jazz orchestra is that I love the idea of writing music that becomes fully complete through the creativity of these highly inventive musicians that play in the band. I write very detailed music, but I love to leave space where the story can be told in a slightly different way every time by the rhythm section, the soloist, and even the whole band. Collectively, we're all looking for a sense of inevitability in the music, but at the same time, creating music that feels ignited by surprise. This connection that's made it through my music is not only fulfilling to me on the musical level, but on a personal level as well. What I love most is when the musicians bring the music to a place that surprises all of us, and you can see on everyone's face that they're just in shock and delighted. And what's amazing to me is how compositional they are. Even though they may have gone to a very distant place, they are keenly aware that they have to gently land us on the ground so that it meets up with the composed music in a way that feels seamless and logical."
Earlier in Schneider's career, she served as an assistant to composing giant Gil Evans for several years. It seems as though Evans' influence may have rubbed off; "People often ask if Gil Evans influenced my music. I would say that the deepest influence came through just seeing how completely individualistic Gil's music was. It made me want to find my own strong voice and path. It's maybe important to say that I don't think I would've found my way into writing for jazz orchestra if I had not heard how Gil brought in the colors and the transparency of classical music to his work. Also, in terms of form, Bob Brookmeyer showed me how the expansive forms of the classical world could also be brought into the jazz world. That, of course, started with Ellington before Brookmeyer. That was important to me, as classical music was a huge part of my background," Schneider concludes.
As the great Brookmeyer noticed, "Maria Schneider is a chance-taker who has complete control over what she does, and has her own voice." DownBeat magazine's James Hale says, "In the Duke Ellington mode, Schneider understands how to provide both direction and freedom to bring out the best in her soloists. For Schneider, the question is no longer whether she can sustain the heights she has attained on earlier recordings; it is now how far her musical journey will take her."
Come join the journey on this special evening of quality composition and performance in the stunning setting of The Allen Room. It promises to be a night you will remember.
Scott H. Thompson is an internationally published writer and publicist. For more information, visit jalc.org.