Maria Schneider and the Fine Art and “Tricky Business” of Creating Unfinished Music

Maria Schneider. Photo by Whit Lane ©

There is nothing in jazz like the sound of a big band in full flight. It’s not just the sheer power of a large ensemble, but the palette of colors and rhythmic possibilities it brings to the music, and the variety of settings it opens to improvisers. Few have expanded and updated the sound of a big band over the past several decades like composer and arranger Maria Schneider.

In her work, the lines between musical genres often blur, and she has proven as adept at writing music for The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the adventurous Dutch Metropole Orchestra, as with her Jazz Orchestra. In 2014, underscoring the point, Schneider surprised a few jazz and rock fans collaborating with the late David Bowie on the single “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime).” It earned her a Grammy Award for “Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocal,” one of five she has won for work in both jazz and classical music.

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Arturo O’Farrill – Family, Jazz and the Music of Cuba, Revisited


Arturo O’Farrill Photo by Laura Mariet ©

Born in Mexico City and raised in New York City, pianist, composer and educator Arturo O’Farrill grew up close to Cuba and its culture.
Geography and physical distances can be just an illusion. After all, O’Farrill is the son of the great, late Cuban composer and arranger Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill and is himself a leading figure in Afro-Cuban jazz. Deepening the connection, in the past two decades, professional and family reasons have taken O’Farrill to his father’s homeland.

The results include albums such as Cuba: The Conversation Continues, which was recorded in Havana and features his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and several top-flight Cuban musicians. The album earned a 2016 Grammy nomination, and O’Farrill won a Grammy, his sixth, for “Best Instrumental Composition” for the “Afro Latin Jazz Suite,” the centerpiece of the recording.

In 2017, O’Farrill also celebrated Cuban music history – and his family´s – in a moving collaboration with Cuban pianist, composer and arranger Chucho Valdes, son of the late Cuban pianist, composer and arranger Bebo Valdes, another essential figure in the history of modern Afro-Cuban music and a friend of Chico O’Farrill. The resulting Familia, a tribute to the elders, is a multigenerational recording that features younger musical members of both families.
O’Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra will present some of this work, and more, in “Jazz Roots: Cuba: New Perspectives” on Jan. 10 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

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Daymé Arocena Sonocardiogram

Daymé Arocena performing at the North Beach Bandshell, Miami Beach, in March 2019

These are my liner notes for Daymé Arocena’ s Sonocardiograma (Brownswood Recordings) released last month. 

Sonocardiograma, the name of Cuban singer and songwriter Daymé Arocena new release is not just a title but also both a description and declaration of purpose.

“The name Sonocardiograma is inspired in the word echocardiogram, a medical exam to check if your heart is working properly,” explained Daymé in a recent conversation from her home in Havana, Cuba. “When we were thinking about the concept of the album and its title, we knew we wanted to create something that was a snapshot of who we are inside.”

The “we” Daymé refers to is her quartet, comprising Jorge Luis Lagarza Pérez, piano, and arranging; Rafael Aldama Chiroles, bass; and Marcos Morales Valdés, drums. “We not only always play together, and tour together but we celebrate birthdays together, accompany each other after breakups, console each other with family matters. We are a family,” she says.

“ We wanted it to capture our personality, our world, how we hear the music,” she explains. “We recorded it in Havana. There were no producers, and we didn’t want to go to a recording studio, and we lucked out and found this great space that had been an artist’s studio and we recorded there, all in one room, surrounded by art, cats and dogs and ambient noises. We wanted a record that had the energy and the spirit we have in concert. Sonocardiograma is about who we are.”

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