Post-millennial swing

By JIM MACNIE  |  August 4, 2010

MARIA SCHNEIDER IS ON THE NEWPORT BILL. YOU WERE A STUDENT OF HERS AS WELL. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR TIME TOGETHER? I'm always learning from Maria's pieces. She's a tremendous inspiration to anyone trying to create big band music, because she was able to make such a vital and unique statement out of the gate with Evanescence, and has been able to work on a consistently high level ever since. There's really not a lot of people you can say that about, people that have had such a strong run of making one great record after another. She takes her time with her releases, and when the music is ready the record comes out. There's a lot that's rather mysterious about the way she's able to conjure sounds out of her musicians, too. I see what it is on paper, I look at it on the score, but what actually comes out of the musicians' horns bears no resemblance to what I would think that would be. Her gifts aren't just in the writing, but by using gestures to transform the way her music is played. I've seen a regular college band director prepare her music in advance of her arrival, and heard what it sounded like before she got there. But then she [arrives], steps in front of the group, and makes a gesture that completely changes the sound. It becomes round and blended and fully supported and lyrical. She has an effect on musicians. It's an ability every bandleader would kill for — the ability to focus everyone in the room's energy towards a single goal. Powerful and amazing.

THERE WAS A MASSIVE CRITICAL CONSENSUS AROUNDINFERNAL MACHINES. EVERY PLACE FROM THEVOICE TONEWSWEEK SANG ITS PRAISES. DOES THAT KIND OF REACTION GO BEYOND THE MUSIC ITSELF? Music always has something beyond the music. There's no such thing as people appreciating music in a vacuum. There's a context for Ellington at the Cotton Club, a context for Charlie Parker on 52nd Street. I'm aware that there are a lot of intelligent people in the world — artistically sophisticated people — who have trouble understanding instrumental music. It's kind of a weird thing. Instrumental music of any kind is always going to be kind of a niche thing. My feeling is that it helps to have a way in through the abstraction. It's why some of the tunes I write have the titles that they do, why I explain the genesis behind a piece, and present it in a way that might excite people's imagination, plant the seed of certain ideas: the relationship between music and technology, the relationship between this antiquated big band format and the way we live today. I'm glad those ideas have resonated in a complimentary way with people. I had no idea it would happen. I thought the record would be a business card; maybe it would get me a couple more gigs. But, remember: we also need a perspective for what it actually means. Relative to the amount of critical buzz, the audience is very, very small. The question is how to use the buzz and do a bit of outreach.

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