It could be the coffee. It could be the prospect of a special homecoming. Whatever the case, Maria Schneider sounds giddy about an April visit to her hometown, the tiny Minnesota community of Windom, where this distinctive jazz figure discovered her love of music.
"I can't even wait," she says by phone from her New York City home. "I conducted at Carnegie Hall, I did a concert in Sydney for 80,000 people, and nothing compares to this." Schneider, who studied at the universities of Minnesota and Miami, as well as the Eastman School of Music, and who was an assistant to the great Gil Evans in the last three years of his life, will conduct the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra March 15 and 16.
"I get calls to do concerts with other orchestras as guest conductor doing my music," says Schneider, who has recorded three exceptional, ambitious albums on the Enja label with the 18-piece Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra. "I'm really enjoying traveling, but toward the end of the summer, I will cut back so I can figure out the next step."
For now, she's preoccupied with the Windom concert, a showcase for her orchestra that will celebrate the grassroots rescue of her old middle school. Windom recently built a new high school, and as a result, the old school was to be torn down. But locals raised enough money to bring the weathered building up to code -- and revive the theater where young Maria performed in variety shows and musicals. She's writing a piece for the concert, honoring her teacher, Evelyn Butler, "a great stride and classical pianist. Her music just exuded her personality," Schneider says. "In a lot of places in this country, the arts seem to be taking a back seat. They have huge gymnasiums at the new high school, but they don't have a theater."