Bittersweet Distractor

at the intersection of music and psychology

Maria Schneider’s Composed Jazz

Last Thanksgiving week, I took the opportunity to see Maria Schneider’s jazz orchestra during their annual stint at the Jazz Standard in NY. I’m not usually a fan of jazz bands (I prefer smaller ensembles and a less brassy sound), but I found the music to be innovative enough and the musicians to be talented enough to engage my interest.

This week in the NY Times Magazine, there is an article about Maria Schneider’s brand of music (by Zachary Woolfe). Here were a few things that I found interesting:

1. Schneider’s background is mostly in classical music, so her focus is on composition. The music still sounds like jazz, and the musicians take solos, of course, but rather than going off in whatever direction they please, they need to get from point A to point B, for the composition to flow. This is unlike the style of a lot of previous jazz bands, but these restrictions on the soloists may actually be helpful. Sometimes innovation can be even more challenging (and powerful) when it is hampered, just a little. This also means that Maria herself is under a lot more pressure (she only composes and conducts), and she admits to suffering from writer’s block quite often.

2. Recording orchestral music is expensive! Think of all the musicians that you have to pay, for starters (Schneider’s band always features seasoned jazz artists, some of whom are professors at conservatories). To help make it possible for Schneider to actually make some money (she gets very little in the end when she records with a big label), her friend Brian Camelio started a crowdfunding program named ArtistShare, which is a lot like the present-day Kickstarter. The idea is that fans contribute money to help make the music, but – like stockholders – they get to be involved in the music-making process. In exchange for the money, Schneider gives up a little bit of her independence (for example, the shareholders can veto her working with an artist they don’t approve of), and she also gives up a little bit of her privacy. In order to bring the fans into her creative process, she’ll make videos of her creative process. These videos are often emotional and pessimistic, since Schneider does struggle against procrastination. Does this honesty hurt her in the end? (her dad said to her that she should never say that the music is bad, or else no one will buy it). Does this dependence on the fans hurt her creatively?

Or is this just the wave of the future? More and more, we’re seeing bands posting photos of themselves on tour on Instagram, songwriters sharing ideas and feelings on Twitter…fans want to be let in on the creative process, and to feel as if they have input. In the end, the bands become more successful, at least commercially. Whether it hurts the music itself – well, that’s still an open question.

3. Finally, I liked this quote from Maria in the NYT piece:

“Like dreams are a way to process your psyche, music is a way to preserve and share memory.”

Schneider’s compositions aim to bring the audience into a memory or experience in her life. To the extent that people share experiences and emotions and memories, this self-reflection and recollection through music can be very moving.

April 14th, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments


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