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Maria Schneider: On the Road Again

Mark Robbins By

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Five time Grammy Award winner Maria Schneider and her eighteen-piece collective, some of the finest musicians on the jazz scene today, is on the road in 2018. All About Jazz spoke to the composer/arranger about her work, her love of music and her involvement and commitment to improve on the Music Modernization Act during a stop-over on the tour. The interview was conducted via telephone.

All About Jazz: Good morning, Maria and welcome to Virginia.

Maria Schneider: Thank you, this is a part of the country that we really haven't toured so I look forward to bringing the band there. We're going to be playing a lot of concerts. We're playing one tonight and we'll be playing a little bit of different music every night because I like to change it up and it keeps the band fresh. This band has a great lineup of musicians, some of us have been playing together for thirty years.

AAJ: I was just in Wilmington, NC covering the North Carolina Jazz Festival and one of your band members, Scott Robinson, was playing.

MS: Yes, we've been making music together for thirty years. This is such a fabulous collection of players. Because we've been playing together so long some would think that we would become stale. But, because the music has so much freedom in it, the musicians make it different every night. One of the things audiences always comment about is how much they enjoy watching the band. I think the audience is amazed at how much the band enjoys each other, how they're always surprising each other. It's clearly spontaneous because of the joy and amazement on everybody's faces. When jazz is at its highest it is a communicative art. There are jazz musicians who, when they improvise, they're just trying to show everything they can play and they're not really listening. But when players are really listening to each other and playing with each other, throwing out ideas, sharing things back and forth, the audience can feel how much it is a language. Much of it is communication and that is what is so inviting to an audience. It's like hearing people talk who are really communicating and sharing ideas as opposed to hearing somebody who is just a blow hard, someone who is just talking at somebody. It's about the listening. The players are constantly improvising and taking each other's cues knowing anything could happen at any moment. You could practice a certain way, but if somebody throws something different into the mix you've got to be ready to react. It's wonderful. It's a joy to work with these kind of musicians. For me, the fun of being a jazz composer is hearing how they make my music become something different from night to night. There are so many nights when there is a burst of something and I wish I had a recording of what just happened.

AAJ: So when a player solos, he or she is not necessarily playing from a chart?

MS: So, that's hard to describe. Yes, they are, but I never use the word chart. A lot of jazz musicians do use that term but to me a chart is just like a standard map. My music doesn't really give standard maps. A lot of my music is very descriptive of things, like hang gliding, sailing, to depictions of certain type of birds so when a musician solos he has a role to play to bring the piece from point A to point B. I give them indicators, certain harmonic direction, they know they have certain boundaries, so then the challenge is being creative within those boundaries and making the piece feel the way it should feel whether it's birds or sailing or any number of things. The musician is both being a wonderful improviser for his or her own display and also creating a continuity to the piece so that everything in the end feels inevitable. Also, they are just trying to do something different each time. There are so many different things in play. With these guys you never hear the same thing twice. With some musicians you do. Hearing the same thing twice may be okay but three or four times, no. They're constantly challenging themselves to do different things because that's their motivation as a creative musician.

AAJ: Have you always been a jazz fan? IIs that what you listened to as a kid?

MS: I listened to other types of music. Definitely classical, and the pop music of the day. I grew up starting out in the sixties and there was some really great music, and even that pop music had a lot of orchestration if you think back to The Fifth Dimension, Simon and Garfunkel and all these things had just beautiful beautiful arrangements and melodies and harmonies.Herb Alpert, I was so into that and the bands like Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire. So, I grew up with really great pop music. My piano teacher in my home town was a stride pianist and I really got a love of standards. Every Christmas my mother would give me either a Rodgers and Hammerstein book, or a Lerner and Lowe, Gershwin, or Cole Porter, so I fell in love with those kind of songs making little stride arrangements on the piano.

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