One of the rewarding things of teaching the Moravian College Big Band trumpet students and playing lead trumpet with the band is the opportunity to play with great guest musicians. Since 2012, the Moravian College Jazz Program along with support from the Pennsylvania Jazz Collective (www.pajazzcollective.org) has brought in legendary jazz artists for their Fall concert series. Consisting of several great educational seminars, clinics and classes, the finale of the week is a concert with the Moravian College Big Band as well as with their own ensemble. Add in a few extra gigs at Hotel Bethlehem, and it is a great time for jazz in the Lehigh Valley! From middle school to adult, the opportunity to learn from these great individuals is plentiful.
This year was no different. The guest artist for the Fall semester was Grammy Award winning jazz composer Maria Schneider (www.mariaschneider.com) This was the first time the guest was a composer. The first half of the concert, which was held on November 18, 2016, featured the college band playing their own selections as well as her music under her direction. The second half was fully her own music.
Maria is considered one of the most in demand jazz composers of our time and is regarded as an innovator with her creative harmonic ideas and rhythmic structure unlike what you will ever hear. Her music is sometimes called avant-garde with flares of contemporary and classical styles peppered in. The mixture of the varied styles is probably what makes her music as unique as it is.
Originally from Minnesota and now based out of New York City, Maria has managed to establish herself as the premier composer in an arena that has predominantly been dominated by men for the past 60 years. She was named Best Composer, best Arranger and Best Big Band in Down Beat magazine from 2006-2012 and again in 2016. In 2007 she won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition, “Cerulean Skies“, and Best Classical Vocal Solo Winter Morning Walks. In 2016, her album The Thompson Fields won the Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble. Needless to say, her accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. Her music is now considered standard jazz literature for many top notch college jazz programs and she is very much in demand as a clinician and composer for many institutions.
If you talk to many jazz artists, you might hear that Maria is considered the top and most popular arranger on the East Coast and Gordon Goodwin the most sought after composer and arranger on the West Coast The fact that we had someone of such high stature was a great experience for everyone involved. Having the chance to hear exactly how a piece is supposed to played from the person who actually wrote it was a surreal experience. She was very kind to work with yet had a way of demanding the best from everyone not accepting less than your best.
For everyone who was a part of her 3 days in the Lehigh Valley, there was definitely something to learn. The concert was awesome and a great experience for the students. Some of them may not yet realize the impact of someone like Maria being a part of their musical development. But, one day they will look back and realize that they had a chance to play under the direction of a legend!