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Maria Schneider: Raising the Bar

By Published: December 6, 2007
AAJ: Do you write with people in mind?

MS: I write with nothing in mind. At this point, my players are so burned in my brain, it's like you with your wife—you know her so well that it's just there; you can't avoid it; she's part of you. My players, their sound, are now so a part of me, that I can't help it. I don't think I could even think to write a certain way; it's just there. Like if I'm writing something for [trumpeter] Ingrid [Jensen], I'm hearing Ingrid and that's it. But the thing is, I'm hearing it one way, but what I've discovered is there's a multitude of ways and even instruments that can play those solos. And what's really fun for me—when I go someplace and somebody who I don't know brings something to it and then they show me something in my music that I never knew it was; and I love that, because then they show me a different place. That opens me up to see things in a fresh way, just like other people you meet help you open up and see. Sometimes I come back to the band and I'll say, "Oh, you guys, we should try this; let's open up this way; this person did this; it worked really cool; try this." Once, with this piece called "Wyrgly," I worked with these students in France and the saxophones got one bar off from the brass for a second. I was, like, "Oh my God, that is so cool!" And then with my band we started playing like that on purpose for the whole first part of the piece, playing with everybody a bar off from each other. So it can be like that.

AAJ: How important is an audience to a performance?

Maria SchneiderMS: You know how it is in a jazz club—you can feel if you have one of those audiences that are, like, "Woo!" It just brings it out of the musicians; they want to play. When you can't see the audience, you don't get this feeling that you're communicating to somebody, so all of a sudden you're thinking, "Are they there? What are they thinking of me," as opposed to if you see them sitting there and reacting. You can see and feel their bodies, so when you're playing you feel them reacting and you feel like you're communicating to them. And I can feel by the way my band plays, by the expressions on their faces. With a dark audience in an unlit space, it's like you just suck the life out of it; it's very difficult to play that way. I remember we played in Buffalo, New York and there was this big guy sitting in the front, just loving it, and the whole band was playing to this guy. Audience is very important.

AAJ: How has ArtistShare impacted your career?

MS: I've just started to notice how much my music-making is about sharing and communicating stories—that I'm not just sitting here trying to create beautiful sounds for myself: I'm excited to try to convey something to people. And one of the things about this whole ArtistShare thing that came out is that the more typical way of selling a CD, like in a record store, is kind of like when you're on a dark stage with an audience that's far away—you don't feel who they are. So you're doing your music, but you're doing it in a bubble for yourselves, and when they turn on the lights and people say, "Oh yeah, there was a standing ovation!" "Oh, there was? I'm glad they liked it!" or the review comes out four months later and people like it.

As opposed to doing this ArtistShare thing through the website: as you're making the record, all of a sudden these people are coming forth and saying, "I wanna be a Bronze participant; here's a thousand dollars"; "I wanna be executive producer: here's eighteen thousand dollars." And you feel these people in your corner; they're excited; and all these people pre-ordering and writing you notes—"I'm real excited to get this record. Good luck!"—all this stuff. You feel your audience there.

So I'm sitting here writing: in the same way it pumps up players to play, it pumps me up to write and communicate, because you feel them right there and you know that when this record comes out and you send it out, they're going to get it immediately and, "Oh my God, I hope that they love it and I hope that they feel this." And it raises the bar, really! I'm able to really do what I do and communicate here in this isolated environment, because I'm feeling these people there, you know? So for me, it's been good for my music. I know the two best records that I've made are on this ArtistShare thing and maybe it's partly because of that.

Selected Discography

Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007)
Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Days of Wine and Roses (ArtistShare, 2005)

Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004)

Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Allegresse (Enja, 2000)

Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Coming About (Enja, 1995)

Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Evanescence (Enja, 1992)

Photo Credit
Jos L. Knaepen

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