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Maria Schneider, Interlake High School, and me (Part 3): Notes from the Teaching Field
(continued from yesterday's Part 2)
The Interlake Jazz Ensemble concert with Maria Schneider was Thursday May 22, 1997 at the Nippon Kan Theatre in Seattle. Here's what we played that night:
See the World by Pat Metheny (arranged by Bob Curnow)
Beija-Flor by Nelson Cavagvinho, Noel Silva, and Augusto Tomaz Jr. (arranged by Gil Cray)
Bird Count by Maria Schneider
Last Season by Maria Schneider
Miles Ahead by Miles Davis and Gil Evans (arranged by Gil Evans)
Interlude by Toshiko Akiyoshi
Dance You Monster to My Soft Song by Maria Schneider
Conspiracy Theory by Mike Tomaro
Groove Merchant by Jerome Richardson (arranged by Thad Jones)
Love Theme from "Spartacus" by Alex North (arranged by Maria Schneider)
Amad from The Far East Suite by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
Mount Harissa from The Far East Suite by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
Jubliee Stomp by Duke Ellington
The Peacocks by Jimmy Rowles (arranged by Bill Holman)
Moanin' by Charles Mingus (arranged by Sy Johnson)
Except for conducting See the World and Conspiracy Theory at the beginning of each set as well as playing the tenor sax solo for Love Theme from "Spartacus" and some scat singing during Moanin', I was able to have the rare opportunity to just sit back and listen backstage. And what a concert! To say that the concert and residency was a success was an understatement. Here is what Maria said about the entire experience during her 1999 Commencement Address at her alma mater, the Eastman School of Music (recalled in the September 1999 (now defunct) Jazz Educators Journal):
I was invited to be a clinician at a school in [Seattle]. They requested specific pieces of mine that they wished to perform--some of my more difficult music, but I sent it.
The day before leaving for Seattle, I became aware that I was going to a high school--not even an arts high school, just a regular high school--playing some of my hardest music. I was trying to finish a commission for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra and was preparing a new CD. This was "crunch time," and I couldn't believe I was putting all my high priorities on the back burner in exchange for several days of probable torture.
Then at the airport, I became aware that a parent had donated [their] frequent-flyer miles to fly me first class. At the hotel, another parent had prepared an elaborate basket of items for my stay. At the school, the students had made a huge banner welcoming me. And at the first rehearsal, those students were so serious, so excited to work with the composer of their music, that they completely swept me up. I decided I would get that music happening if it killed me. I was on a mission and made those kids work as hard as professionals--probably harder.
When we went on stage, it was with such an elevated energy: the audience was filled with parents and friends with so much pride. And the performance! It was so relaxed--so pure--so musical--so divine. Everything truly essential to my music was there. I had waves of chills. I couldn't believe it, but those kids made me cry.
Of the many concerts I've done, the only poster that hangs in my home is the one from Interlake High School--not Carnegie. It's signed by all those wonderful musicians who taught me lessons about music--about the magic we can create with openness, optimism, desire, enthusiasm, and love.
Now of course we worked VERY hard before Maria's visit as I mentioned in Part 2. But when she was there, it was another level; for the students to have the person that wrote the incredible sounds we had been playing for months, standing in front of them, truly brought things into focus. I remember specifically rehearsing Dance You Monster to My Soft Song and while I had the kids humming along in 5th gear, when Maria came, with her experience and insider knowledge, they were kicked into that 6th gear I didn't know they had! She worked with musicians guiding them toward an understanding of her music that was wonderful to hear and see. Certainly from a purely technical standpoint the performance that night was not technically perfect. Don't get me wrong, the students played great that night, incredible in fact, but to say every single 'i' was dotted and every 't' crossed would be false. However from a MUSICAL vantage, there was in abundance, an aliveness and a magical, honest musicality which is the hallmark of any great performance and this Maria put well in her Eastman address about what made the concert so wonderful and special.
After the concert two professional Seattle musicians, who I didn't know at the time, came up to me and congratulated me on the wonderful performance and for pulling off such a great event. One, Geoff Ogle (a wonderful composer, arranger, and educator who became a good friend), asked me, "This [concert] is something that the University of Washington Jazz Ensemble should be doing, how did you get Maria to come out?" I had a little chuckle and looked him in the eye and stated simply, "I asked."
The residency had a great effect on the students that spilled over into the next award-winning school year where in the jazz ensemble we played Maria's Wyrgly and Coming About, in addition to my first-ever arrangements for jazz. However, Maria's visit really had a profound effect on me. Before the visit I wasn't clear what direction I wanted to take musically or professionally. At the time, I had no plans to leave Interlake. However, the inklings of my departure were certainly already foreshadowed: I had joined the Seattle Young Composers Collective (now the Degenerate Art Ensemble) under the direction of composer/conductor Joshua Kohl only 6 months before Maria's visit and this avant-garde group lead to my meeting and playing along with some great Seattle players (Craig Flory, Amy Denio, Jessica Lurie) and also renewed my interest in composing. But it really was through learning Maria's music from the inside, from watching her work with the students and the incredible passion she brought to working on her music, and just talking with her in those quiet moments we weren't rehearsing, where I said to myself, 'that's what I'd like to do.' And I vowed after her visit to work with more dedication and alacrity on my own music and to find my own sound and voice. Now I never considered (or consider) myself a jazz composer nor did I ever want my music to sound like Maria's nor did I ever see my musical path mirroring her's (while she is generally embraced in the jazz world, I knew even then (in my acute metacognition) that my broad interests and nascent mixed music inclinations, would happily never lead me to be a card-carrying member of the jazz world or the standard classical one as well; this stylistic homelessness and cosmopolitanism, so to speak, has been subsequently borne out over the years here in NYC). But here's what I said about Maria's influence on me in an interview last year,
"...what Maria's music did for me was the same as what John Cage's philosophical musical thought did to many other composers: give me a sense of the possible and a confidence to follow my own musical direction. "
And I can honestly say I probably wouldn't be in New York composing, if it wasn't for Maria. And if I wasn't in New York I wouldn't have met my wife, I probably wouldn't have met all of the wonderful musicians that make my music sound fantastic with my group Numinous, and I wouldn't have found my voice without all of those experiences my NYC years have afforded me. Frankly, I don't know what my life would have been like if she didn't say 'yes' to coming out to Interlake those long years ago. I sometimes wonder if I would have been a Mr. Holland-type lifer at Interlake or would I have found another outlet for my composing and still left teaching anyway? I know for certain that all of the babies I have had since moving to New York would never have been born (now, we are talking musical pieces here, I don't have any baby-mama drama in my life!).
Maria and I have been friends ever since that time and we've talked on a number of occasions about that night and that residency and how special it was for the students, for her, and for me. On this anniversary of that concert, I wanted to share how one seemly small serendipitous experience can have a marked effect on the rest of one's life; how some lessons learned from that wonderful moment (perseverance, the courage to just ask, the true beauty of openness and honesty in the moment) can be monumental. One thing that being a teacher has taught me is that you can never really know how something that you do or say will affect a student years later. I'm sure Maria didn't know that visiting Interlake High School in May of 1997, would influence and touch so many lives and that 13 years later one of those lives would be still be thanking her.
(photo credits from top to bottom: poster from Interlake High School concert with Maria Schneider-this is the one I have hanging in my studio, but Maria has one just like this in her home; Seattle Times May 12, 1998; Interlake High School Jazz Ensemble 1996-1997; Joe and Maria at IHS concert May 22, 1997, Nippon Kan Theatre, Seattle)
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Thanks and credit to all the original photos on this website to: David Andrako, Concrete Temple Theatre, Marcy Begian, Ed Lefkowicz, Donald Martinez, Kimberly McCollum, Geoff Ogle, Joseph C. Phillips Jr., Daniel Wolf-courtesy of Roulette, Andrew Robertson, Viscena Photography, Jennifer Wohrle, Carolyn Wolf, Mark Elzey, Numinosito. The Numinous Changing Same album design artwork by DM Stith. The Numinous The Grey Land album design and artwork by Brock Lefferts. Contact for photo credit and information on specific images.