Since the release of her debut album Evanessence in 1994, Minnesota-born Maria Schneider has established herself as one of the most remarkable and influential composers in jazz. She possesses her own singular voice with an expansive, open composing style that’s an aural expression of the rural southwest Minnesota prairie where she grew up.
In addition to three decades of work with her New York City orchestra, Schneider has written for classical soprano Dawn Upshaw and collaborated with rock-icon David Bowie on the track “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).” She’s a pioneer of crowdsourcing and her albums since 2004 have all been released through ArtistShare, one of the internet’s earliest “fan-funding” platforms. Her album Concert in the Garden was the first crowd-sourced record to win a Grammy Award.
Schneider is also an activist concerned about the threat technology poses to artists and the human spirit. She’s angered by the corporate greed of big data companies and has testified before Congress about copyright law and how musicians are being ripped off by streaming services.
Schneider says her life is caught between the opposing worlds of art and nature and commerce and technology. Her latest album, Data Lords, is a musical exploration of these two polarized extremes. It’s available through ArtistShare as a 2-CD set or a high-res download split into two thematic halves: “The Digital World” and “Our Natural World.”
During a Jazz Nightly interview, Schneider said she didn’t set out to produce an album of musical compositions dedicated to the contrasting organic and digital worlds.
“When I write music I just sit down and start fooling around with ideas and looking around for something that inspires me,” Schneider said “What it was conjuring up were all of these images and thoughts about big data. But then after writing a piece like that I would find myself writing sort of a palette cleanser; something inspired by a piece of pottery by Jack Troy, or the poetry of Ted Kooser or various other things.”
“It kind of ping-ponged back and forth and for a long time I was thinking ‘I don’t know how I’ll ever record any of this music because it’s so diverse,’” she explained. “And then one day I looked at it and said, ‘what is it telling me about my life?’ And then I thought, ‘it’s telling me that I’m struggling between these two worlds myself.’ And so then I decided to consciously write a few pieces to fill out this idea.”
Schneider’s Data Lords has received a 2021 Grammy nomination for "Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album." The track “Sputnik” is nominated for “Best Instrumental Composition.” The Grammy Awards ceremony is scheduled for March 14.