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Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to The Savory Collection

AAJ Staff By

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LS: That is a brilliant idea. I'm going to steal that [laughs]. I had never thought of that and that might even be a way for us when we do the Savory Collection. It'll be tied to something contemporary. So, in other words, if somebody likes Little Wayne or Naz or Alicia Keys or whomever the hell it is—Justin Bieber, whatever his [name is]—if they like that, you introduce both to both. Because we're not coming from the perspective that jazz is better than anything else, which is unfortunately the position of too many people, that somehow jazz is superior. No, I'm not saying that jazz is superior.

AAJ: You have won two Grammies for album essay notes. How do you write a good sleeve-note?

LS: You call them sleeve-notes, that's what they're called. But they're really... without sounding too pompous, one of my favorite writers is [classical music critic] Donald Francis Tovey, and I love Tovey's writing because Tovey wrote about classical music in a way that laymen could read and a serious musician could read the same piece and find something in it. So my goal has always been to try and imitate—I never did it [laughs]—but to try and write about it in a way that would satisfy me as a musician, and that my nephew or my niece could read.

AAJ: Is there a particular example of Tovey's writing you can mention?

LS: Well, his writing about the Brahms symphonies is how I met him, because I'm a Brahms nut. Because I was getting into that, and I started teaching it at the places I was teaching when I was teaching jazz. I was starting to incorporate it to make sure that jazz students would have a month of Brahms' Fourth, just so that they would understand it. In the summer program I do with Christian McBride [McBride was appointed a Co-Director of the Museum in 2005] in Aspen, we have great young jazz musicians and I take them through the Goldberg Variations [of JS Bach]. And again, Tovey on the Goldberg Variations is incredible. But we only do it in the context of its relationship to jazz music.

So, in other words, I always tell my students there are three things: "OK, we're talking about the Goldberg Variations, but you have to be able to understand what the relationship is between jazz and you here in 2010, and if at any moment you don't understand those two things just ask me and I'll try to answer that question. So, in other words, we never want to get into a topic or a musical analysis that's so abstruse or so opaque or far out, that they say "What the hell are we talking about this for? This is a jazz discussion. This is a jazz class. You're teaching me about jazz. Why are we talking about Bach?" And then I'll try and answer. I'll say, "Because, there are only so many notes, there are only so many chords, and why try and re-invent the wheel?"

AAJ: What other classical composers do you like a lot?

LS: Brahms is my particular fascination. I love all different kinds of things. But for me it's Brahms, and then there are other things I compare to him and enjoy. So I could talk about Arnold Schoenberg, Beethoven, Messaien. My particular favorite is Brahms and everything comes out of that.



AAJ: What was your input on the Ken Burns Jazz history series?

LS: I was one of the advisors. He had about ten advisors and I was one of them.

AAJ: In your sleeve notes, you focus on the era of the '20s through to bebop. Do you think that people give too much attention to the '50s on?

LS: Yes, very good question. What I've encountered with most musicians and maybe the public is that they think of anything before Charlie Parker as kind of Neanderthal music in a certain sense, or somehow simple or somehow something that has to be a little condescended to a little bit like old grandpa, and my point is that let's listen to Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, and Louis Armstrong. What has ever surpassed that in terms of any quality that you want to talk about as being "modern," whatever the word "modern" means? So yes, that's my passion, so I'll put [this as] a positive expression of what I love about that, and let you draw your own conclusions about it.

AAJ: You stopped leading bands after the '80s. Was there any lessening in work after the stock crash in 1987?

LS: I don't think so. My life went on and leading a big band didn't become the number one thing for me anymore. It's an expensive habit!

Selected Discography

Barbara Lea W/the Loren Schoenberg Big Band, Black Butterfly (THPOPS, 2006)

Loren Schoenberg And His Jazz Orchestra, Out Of This World (TCB Records, 1999)

Ken Peplowski, Good Reed (Concord Records, 1997)

Loren Schoenberg Jazz Orchestra, Manhattan Work Song (Jazz Heritage, 1992)

Loren Schoenberg Jazz Orchestra, Just A-Settin' And A-Rockin' (Musicmasters, 1990)

The Loren Schoenberg Quartet, Solid Ground (Musicmasters, 1988)

Loren Schoenberg Jazz Orchestra, Time Waits For Noone (Musicmasters, 1987)

Loren Schoenberg Jazz Orchestra, That's The Way It Goes (Musicmasters, 1984)



Photo Credits

Page 1: Courtesy of livelyarts @ flickr

Page 2: Courtesy of Loren Schoenberg

Pages 3, 4: Simon Jay Harper

Page 6: Courtesy of Lynn Redmile
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