Thursday, March 25, 2010

Maria Schneider's Jazz

Why “Jazz Composer” Is Not An Oxymoron | Maria Schneider | Big Think

I recently discovered the music of Maria Schneider, a Grammy Award-winning jazz composer. She's been working since the early 90s, and she's one of the most influential new jazz writers of today. The above video describes her views on improvisation and what it means to make jazz and music itself - a pretty general topic, but an interesting view on improvisation and composition. Her music is eclectic but beautiful - some may classify it as some type of smooth jazz, but it's definitely better than Kenny G. She uses lots of Latin, African, and Brazilian beats and ideas in her work, but other pieces are just gorgeously simple. Schneider's music has obviously developed, changing styles and ideas over the roughly 15 years she's been putting out albums.

This is one of her more recent pieces, "A 'Pretty' Road." In it, we can see some generalizations of Schneider's composition style - her pieces are more melody-driven and harmonized than the modern, avant-garde jazz we've been listening to in class lately. However, there are definitely elements of improvisation, and not just in the solos - even though we know the music is written out for the ensemble, it still feels like it is being improvised, which she encourages. Her instrumentation also deserves recognition - in her early years, she was known for reviving the idea of the "big band" which had fallen out of favor by both composing music for it and changing its instrumentation. Keeping most of the traditional big band instruments - rhythm section, trumpet, trombone, and saxes - she adds some instruments that are somewhat used in jazz - the flugelhorn, clarinet, and flute - and some that we rarely or seemingly never see - bass clarinet, alto flute, accordion, and some electronic alteration. We also hear vocals, but she leaves out the words and lets the vocalist create her own ideas with the sound. Overall, while Schneider's sound may unclassifiable, it's definitely something new, which seems to be what jazz is about a lot of the time - resurrecting old ideas, revitalizing them, and taking things in an entirely new direction. And Schneider's jazz is definitely a good direction.

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