March 3, 2024

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Composer Maria Schneider on working with Bowie: “He let out the beast in me”: Video

Composer and bandleader Maria Schneider is one of those rare artists to earn equal amounts of admiration from both critics and the general public. Her best work, such as the music on “The Thompson Fields” album from 2015, is uplifting and engrossing.

Schneider has five Grammy statuettes to her name for her compositions, arrangements and recordings, and her list of collaborators ranges from jazz royalty like Gil Evans to rock behemoth David Bowie. (She was awarded a Grammy for her arrangement of the song she co-wrote with him, “Sue,” also from 2015.)

You might think that with all of the accolades and public support, holding together a touring big band would be easier to maintain for her than for lesser-known and less accomplished artists.

Schneider assured me that it is not.

“Now it’s a very small niche,” she says of the demand for her 18-member band. “I’ve got guys who have their own groups, and there’s that musician who needs to leave for another country the next day (for a different tour under their own name or a separate band). And you have to find gigs that pay enough money.”

Still, Schneider and her orchestra work through the logistics to deliver powerful live performances, and she’ll bring her artistry to the Lakewood Cultural Center on Feb. 27. (Head’s up, jazz fans in the Durango area: Her group will appear at the Community Concert Hall of Fort Lewis College on Feb. 28.)

Schneider spoke with me from her home in New York state, where she composed much of the music for “The Thompson Fields,” which serves as a series of sonic meditations on the natural world.

Composer Maria Schneider and soprano Dawn Upshaw teamed up for “Winter Morning Walks.” (Jimmy and Dena Katz)

Lately, though, she’s been considering (and writing eloquently about) issues pertaining to technology, and who’s in control of the information we receive. The working title of one of her new compositions is “Data Lords.”

“I’ve been thinking about big data companies, and something musically hit me. That’s what expression does. It may sound pretentious that art speaks the truth about society, but I think that’s true.”

“My worries go beyond the economics of the big band. I’m worried about our existence!”

So expect a wide range of sounds and ideas expressed at the Lakewood concert, from the sunnier thoughts of the “Thompson Fields” compositions to the sense of concern she’s expressing in her new work.

Schneider partially attributes her collaboration with the late Bowie to her current explorations.

“It was really fun working with him because he was fearless! And I work with fear; I do a lot of second-guessing. My early music contained a lot of darkness, and all of a sudden I was writing about the darkness again. He let out the beast in me.”

“If people don’t like the ‘Data’ piece, they can blame David Bowie,” she added with a laugh.

(Maria Schneider Orchestra, 7:30 p.m., Feb. 27, Lakewood Cultural Center, Lakewood. Tickets range from $21 to $40. More information).

Other shows coming up: The Diana Castro Bandplays El Chapultepec on Feb. 13. … Tina Phillips’ Jazz Trio appears at the Lone Tree Arts Center on Valentine’s Day. … The Special EFX All-Stars are scheduled for the Soiled Dove Underground on Feb. 15. … Former Denver resident and brilliant vocalist Rene Marie brings her “Experiment In Truth” to Dazzle Feb. 15-16.

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