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Composer Maria Schneider swings into Hub with band

Susan Saccoccia | 4/11/2014, 11:45 a.m.
Hang gliding over Rio; listening to birds singing; and gazing across wind-swept prairies are all experiences that jazz composer and ...
Jazz composer and conductor Maria Schneider conducts her 18-member orchestra. (Jimmy and Dena Katz photo)

Schneider obtained a bachelor’s degree in music from University of Minnesota and later, a master’s of degree in music from the Eastman School of Music. In 2012, her alma mater awarded her an honorary doctorate.

In 1985, Schneider moved to New York City and found a mentor in Gil Evans, whose orchestrations include three of Miles Davis’ finest albums: “Miles Ahead” (1957), “Porgy and Bess” (1958) and “Sketches of Spain” (1960).

Schneider worked for Evans during the last three years of his life, assisting him on arrangements. After his death in 1988, she formed the Maria Schneider Orchestra. From 1993 to 1998, they had a standing Monday night gig at a Greenwich Village jazz club. In 1994, they recorded their first album, “Evanescence.” Nominated for a Grammy, the debut recording widened their circle of fans.

Three years later, Schneider and her band went on tour in Brazil, an experience that shaped her singular voice as a composer. “Brazil was a big game changer in my music,” says Schneider. “The people, music and culture expressed an alchemy in life that turns struggle and pain into beauty and joy. Tom Jobim and Bach possess the same level of genius. Brazilian music is highly sophisticated, with very intricate, beautiful harmonies, yet very accessible.”

Extending her affinity for community to her business model, Schneider was an early adapter of fan-funding, which lets musicians control marketing and sales and keep profits that otherwise go to a record company. “It’s the only way now,” says Schneider. “I’m so glad I’ve spent last 10 years developing that.”

Schneider uses the website and record label ArtistShare to engage her fan base. Her 2004 album “Concert in the Garden” was the label’s first release and the first recording to win a Grammy with Internet-only sales. Supporters invest from $12.95 to $10,000 or more to preorder a new album and receive perks that vary in scale, from videos and blogs charting the creative process to VIP events.

At Berklee, Schneider and her band will play selections from albums that span two decades as well as yet-unrecorded pieces.