Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer, The Fringe, Peter Cincotti
January 1, 1970Three pieces this week, topped off with today's joint profile of Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider. Peter Cincotti looked pretty good to me in concert last Friday, as mentioned in my Tuesday review.
Sunday's Boston Globe will have my year-end wrapup the the 2004 jazz scene, including a list of the 10 best concerts I managed to catch. But that will be in next week's newsletter.
Shooting this one off to you a day early to accommodate a Christmas drive that will take us over the river and through the woods to Grandma Joan's.
Happy holidays, everyone.
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They are scoring with big-band instrumentation
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 24, 2004
Big bands don't get a lot of attention or respect these days. Look at Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider as a paired case in point. Both are taking traditional big-band instrumentation to places it's never been before, with compositions that move beyond commonplace horn-section-based big band charts to something closer to classical composition in its range and richness.
Brookmeyer and Schneider are, hands down, two of the finest composer-arrangers in jazz today, and they're going head to head in one Grammy category. In the award for best large jazz ensemble album, the Bob Brookmeyer New Art Orchestra has been nominated for "Get Well Soon," and the Maria Schneider Orchestra is a finalist for "Concert in the Garden."
"If somebody had told me when I was young that one day I'd be nominated for a Grammy and be in a category with Bob Brookmeyer," says Schneider, a onetime student of his, "I would have not even believed that to be possible."
Schneider's work, in fact, is up for two other Grammys this year. Her composition "Bulería, Soleá y Rumba" is competing in the "best instrumental composition" category against her own "Three Romances." (A version of the latter piece, recorded by the University of Miami Concert Band, has also been nominated in that category.) And tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin was nominated for "best jazz instrumental solo" for his performance on "Bulería, Soleá y Rumba."
For all that success, though, good luck finding either of their Grammy-nominated CDs in a record store. Brookmeyer's entire oeuvre was out of stock at the Virgin Megastore at Newbury Street and Massachusetts Avenue this week, though he teaches a short walk away at New England Conservatory.
Schneider's new CD isn't supposed to be in any retail store. She recorded it for ArtistShare, a new company designed to bring jazz artistry directly to audiences via the Internet. Schneider, 44, says she was tired of having her CDs fail to make a profit because of the record industry's "archaic" method of calculating artist royalties.
Brookmeyer, who turned 75 this past Sunday, is switching to ArtistShare himself for his next project.
The struggles of these two artists to get their music heard confirms the difficulties confronting big bands. These are largely economic (a 17-piece band obviously costs more to maintain than a quartet), but ignorance also contributes to big bands' falling off the collective radar.
"A lot of people associate big band with some bad repertoire that they played in their high school or college band," says Schneider, from her Manhattan apartment, "and I think they don't realize what an artistic thing it can be."
Brookmeyer blames "the big downturn" on "the end of the dance band."
"For musicians and writers both," he explains from his home in New Hampshire, "that was a chance to experiment and learn your craft. And for musicians it was a chance to learn how to play together, which [now] you don't get.
"There is also a big lack of quality writing and performing in big bands," he adds. "I could name four outstanding big bands in the world — Maria's, Bill Holman's, my band, and the Vanguard Orchestra on some nights — and there are a couple of bands in Europe, too, that are very good. And that's about it. For a country this big, that ain't so good."
Schneider came to jazz circuitously, having been taught stride and classical piano early on by a neighbor in Windom, Minn., along with basic music theory. She didn't come upon more modern forms of jazz until studying composition at the University of Minnesota. She received a master's degree from the Eastman School of Music and followed that with a National Endowment for the Arts grant to study arranging with Brookmeyer in New York City.
"She was very well developed when she came to me," recalls Brookmeyer. "She had great instrumental skills, and I used to say the instruments loved her — they'd jump in her lap."
According to Brookmeyer, Schneider disputes having known much upon arrival. "She was at the house last year," he says, "and I dogged her and said, 'You say you learned from me. What did you learn?' And she said, 'I came to you as an arranger and left a composer.' That's the best compliment I think I could get."
Schneider would go on to work with another great composer-arranger, the late Gil Evans, before moving on to her own orchestra.
"Gil's music and Bob's music were the big influences in my life," she says. "Bob found a way within jazz to use the developmental techniques of classical music to make his music more than just a theme and variations of a tune. And that affected me a lot."
Schneider notes that she came to big band jazz with a largely classical background. "I don't really write for big band because I'm into the big band," she confesses. "For me, it's that I am a composer. I love orchestration and instrumental color. So the big band gives me this whole palette of color — woodwind doubles and mutes and all this stuff, plus improvisation. I can create these pieces that have all this texture and different levels of density but also have improvisation."
Brookmeyer, unlike Schneider, was a star small-combo instrumentalist — on valve trombone and piano — before composing and arranging became his primary focus. These days that means writing for his beloved New Art Orchestra.
"I had been playing solos with [Stan] Getz and [Gerry] Mulligan, etc., for about a decade," he explains. "But when you compose music, it's a bigger chance, because you're laying yourself open to the world. But also, it's there, it's a permanent thing. And that part I like."
Like Schneider, he also cites as an attraction the "full palette" of composing for 20, instead of four or five. "You can't be a fulfilled composer, really, with a quartet." he says.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Zeitgeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-6060. 10 p.m. $10.
The city's larger jazz clubs are virtually jazz-free in the week between Christmas and New Year's this year. But free jazz will be going on as usual late Monday night in Inman Square, as the talented local trio The Fringe plays its weekly 10 p.m. gig at Zeitgeist. The group was first formed in 1971 by saxophonist George Garzone, bassist Richard Appleman, and drummer Bob Gullotti, with John Lockwood taking over the bass chair in 1985. All three keep busy schedules as teachers and session men — Garzone, for example, is a member of Joe Lovano's esteemed nonet, and Gullotti is Mose Allison's drummer of choice for dates in New England — but it's their free-wheeling improvising as The Fringe that has exposed them to the cognoscenti around town. A few of those cognoscenti were lucky enough to catch Lovano drop by and sit in one Monday late last year for what became the most recent Fringe CD, "Live at the Zeitgeist with Joe Lovano," but it's always worth catching the trio doing their free thing together.
* Thurs 12/23 The Harlem Gospel Choir (below) may not be jazz, but it will be bringing some fine music to a jazz room when it plays the Regattabar tonight at 8 p.m. Regattabar, the Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. $15.
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Cincotti's pop sensibility inspires jazz with a jolt of energy
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 21, 2004
Peter Cincotti, like Harry Connick, Jr., before him, is a bit of a throwback to Frank Sinatra. That's to say he's a skinny young guy who looks good in a suit, wears a pinky ring, and has the potential to take his jazz background and cross over to pop stardom.
He certainly looked well on his way there Friday night at Berklee Performance Center, singing (and chatting up his audience, a sizable portion of which looked old enough to be his grandparents) with maturity beyond his 21 years.
Cincotti played a very credible piano, too, and his band — Scott Kreitzer on tenor sax, Rob Reich on guitar, Barak Mori on upright and electric bass, Mark McLean on drums — displayed ample jazz chops in supporting him. (McLean, in particular, seemed to be in telepathic communion with Cincotti throughout.)
But Cincotti is no mere cover boy. Unlike Sinatra, he writes much of his own material, and he brings a modern pop sensibility to doing so that could give jazz a nice jolt of energy and/or contemporary pop some badly needed musicality.
The group performed mostly covers in the first half of the show, among them Cincotti arrangements of the old Dean Martin hit "Sway," Cole Porter's "I Love Paris," Carole King's "Some Kind of Wonderful," and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Bali Ha'i" (from "South Pacific").
In among these songs, though, Cincotti slipped his own "On the Moon," the title cut on his recently released second album. The piece had a Bruce Hornsby feel to it, and it struck an intriguing middle ground — as if it could conceivably fit into the standard jazz repertoire at some point, or, fitted with electric guitars, pass equally well as a rock ballad.
Cincotti and the band paused midway through the set to verify their jazz bona fides with an instrumental romp through "Cherokee," and the second half of the show was largely taken up with three new pieces written by Cincotti, two of which — "Make It Out Alive" and "On Stage Tonight" recalled Billy Joel. (That's not necessarily a bad thing: a young composer hoping to reconnect jazz and pop could channel far worse models than Hornsby and Joel.)
Cincotti also played a rollicking stride version of "Jingle Bell Rock" unaccompanied, then brought the band back out for "My Favorite Time of Year," an original built around nostalgic New York City Christmas images reminiscent of Mel Tormé's classic "The Christmas Song."
W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" was the jazziest vocal piece of the night, closing out the main set with a pleasing McLean solo.
At: Berklee Performance Center, Friday
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company