Maria Schneider conducts at the 2009 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. Also pictured: Kenny Rampton (trumpet).
- "El Viento"
- "Sky Blue"
- "Cerulean Skies"
- Reeds: Steve Wilson, Charles Pillow, Rich Perry, Donny McCaslin, Dave Riekenberg
- Trumpets: Tony Kadleck, Augie Haas, Laurie Frink, Kenny Rampton
- Trombones: Tim Albright, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes, George Flynn
- Accordion: Gary Versace
- Guitar: Nate Radley
- Piano: Frank Kimbrough
- Bass: Jay Anderson
- Drums: Clarence Penn
- Leader, composer, conductor: Maria Schneider
The second weekend in August is big for festivals. There's the Telluride Jazz Festival in the Rocky Mountains. Caramoor, Litchfield and Newport host multiple-stage events in the woods, on the green, and on the bay, respectively. If you were in southwestern France, bathing in sunflowers, you could go to the remarkable Marciac Jazz Festival. So, as a counterpoint to all this light and heat, come inside the Kennedy Center for a cool hour with the award-winning Maria Schneider Orchestra and her music about the wind, the sky, and birds soaring above the wind as they make the long flight from Brazil to Central Park.
Schneider put her first New York band together in the 1980s, and it played Monday nights at Visiones, a Greenwich Village club near NYU. People flocked to see and hear this slim, petite, confident newcomer from Minnesota and her handsome band. Visiones would get so full that fans stood on the sidewalk, peering in the windows.
In 1994, Schneider released an album with the name of her mentor Gil Evans embedded in the title: Evanescence. She followed Evanescence with Coming About and the opening track "El Viento," commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. At the time, Schneider told JazzSet, "When I think that, for the rest of my life, I'm going to be trying to figure out what am I going to be writing next, it's kind of scary."
In 2004, Hunter College presented Schneider and her orchestra in a celebrated series of concerts and workshops. At the time, she was losing a dear friend to cancer. Schneider channeled the emotions into one of her most direct compositions, "Sky Blue." More recently, she created an extended work, "Cerulean Skies," that depicts birds flying north on the long migration from Brazil to Central Park, less than a block from Schneider's apartment. The radio premiere is included in this episode of JazzSet.
As a conductor, Schneider moves like a ballerina, partnering her Orchestra, drawing out the lines. The pulsing rhythms, the transparent voicings, the doubles (musicians playing more than one instrument), the use of guitar, accordion and sometimes the flamenco dancer — these are some of her personal touches. The loyalty of everyone in her band to her and each other and the quality of their playing — that's what she reaps in return.
Recording by Greg Hartman of Big Mo. Remix in Surround Sound by Duke Markos.