Maria Schneider’s Winter Morning Walks

Readers of this space know of my near-boundless admiration for Maria Schneider, the most accomplished and imaginative big-band composer of our time and high up in the pantheon for all time. Her swaying lyricism, muscular rhythms, and kaleidoscopic harmonic voicings—accented with both a Latin tinge and an airiness as spacious as her native Minnesota—rival and, in some ways, exceed the heights of erstwhile mentors, Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans.

Now, with Winter Morning Walks, Schneider leaps to still loftier terrain, fusing her jazz sensibility with classical idioms, while staying true to both. Her music is played by chamber orchestras (alternating between the Australian and St. Paul), set to the poetry of Ted Kooser and Carlos Drummond, whose words are sung by Dawn Upshaw.

This is gorgeous music. There are shards and strands of Copland, Sondheim, Barber, and Ives, though the sound is distinctively Schneider, who is ever-evolving into a composer of—beyond genre—Great American Music. And she has eked sympatico responses from the orchestras. (The Australians, who play on the album’s first part, which feature Kooser’s poems, are augmented by three of the longest-serving musicians from Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra: pianist Frank Kimbrough, reedman Scott Robinson, and bassist Jay Anderson.)

It’s also a gorgeous recording, engineered by Tim Martyn at 24/96 with Grace preamps and A/D converters. Upshaw was covered by a Neumann microphone, the orchestras by Schoeps mikes in the main, with several spot mikes scattered here and there, though they were used only rarely and lightly.

As with all Maria Schneider’s albums, this CD is available only from her website ( or the site of her label,

RankStranger's picture

...being an AustrALian, that the orchestra in question is actually the AustrALian Chamber Orchestra, led by violinist Richard Tognetti. I have had the intense pleasure of seeing them several times and I have never been any where near Austria, so I must be right!

Otherwise, keep up the good work!

John Atkinson's picture

Fixed the orchestra's name.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

andy_c's picture

I just got her Sky Blue album after reading this article. I've been somewhat out of touch with more recent jazz artists, falling into the trap of being stuck on the classic stuff. It's always good to find out about artists I hadn't known about before.

So I put the music on, somewhat skeptical that she would live up to all the great stuff that's been said about her. Well, that skepticism lasted all of about 30 seconds max.

Holy @#$%! This woman is just amazing! I love her compositions and arrangements, not just for the skill that they demonstrate, but for the emotion they project as well.

Thank you Fred for bringing this artist to my attention!