NEW YORK — Dressed in black, her red hair pulled back, composer-arranger Maria Schneider sways slightly as she conducts her 17-piece big band on a recent Monday night at Visiones, one of the major Greenwich Village jazz rooms.
The music composed and arranged by Schneider, instead of swinging, seems to amble, though sometimes the rhythmic pulse can be quite strong, and the group of tunes she's written, when played, often hang above the bandstand, creating their own architecture.
The 33-year Schneider's ensemble--her lineup included trumpeters Tim Hagans and Greg Gisbert and saxophonists Rick Margitza and Tim Ries--was typical of the name jazz activity that took place in Manhattan during early April.
That's the main difference between the L.A. and New York jazz scenes: There is simply more recognizable talent appearing in clubs in Manhattan than in Los Angeles, and that's because the jazz club tradition is older, more established and more artists live in the city. For example, during that first week of April, you could catch such notables as pianists Tommy Flanagan, John Hicks, George Cables and Joanne Brackeen; saxophonists Joe Lovano, Joe Ford and David Sanchez and trumpeter Art Farmer at such clubs as the Village Vanguard, Sweet Basil, Bradley's, the Down Beat and the Knickerbocker.
Business at these various rooms was somewhat stronger than in Southern California, but not much stronger.
Schneider, for example, drew packed houses for both Monday shows at the 74-seat Visiones, where she's appeared weekly for a year, but no music charge was in effect--she would have probably filled any similar-sized L.A. room.
That same night, drummer Pete (LaRoca) Sims' terrific Swingtime sextet with Sanchez, Jimmy Owens (trumpet) and Cables (piano) did scant business at the 84-seat Down Beat, where the cover was only $5, while Hicks, Lovano and bassist Walter Booker filled the 100-seat Bradley's, the vaunted room adjacent to NYU where the music charge is $12. On Tuesday, Flangan's classy trio, with Peter Washington, bass, and Lewis Nash, drums, drew well at the 140-seat Tavern on the Green, where the cover was $17.50, and Bradley's was again full.
Compare these crowds to examples of last weekend's turnouts in L.A.: Vibist Milt Jackson played to good houses at the 125-seat Catalina Bar & Grill on Friday and Saturday ($15 cover); bassist Armando Compean did solid business at the 55-seat Le Cafe ($8 music charge) and the Elders (Herman Riley, John Heard, Phil Wright and Tootie Heath) packed the Club Brasserie (no cover).
If jazz draws better in Manhattan than in Los Angeles, the reasons seem to be, again, the plethora of quality talent, the strong club tradition and the proximity of the establishments to one another: Bradley's is a 20-minute cab ride from the Upper West Side, for example, and a 10-minute walk from Visiones, the Blue Note, Sweet Basil and the Village Vanguard.
Schneider--who possesses a master's degree from the Eastman School of Music--says that she doesn't make money working Visiones, but it's how she gets her music played. The writer has been influenced by Gil Evans, whom she worked with, and Bob Brookmeyer, whom she studied with. She says she wants her pieces to grow organically.
"Rather than write a tune and set it up for solos, backgrounds, and so on, I like to take an idea, a germ and make it a building block for the entire piece," says Schneider, who can be heard on her fine new Enja release, "Evanescence."
"An idea can be expanded into movements, tensions and resolutions. I like use these ideas to grab someone, draw them in. I'm almost trying to create a being with each piece. Music is art in time, and to be fully observed, a piece of music has to keep a listener's attention from the beginning to the end."
The Hicks trio at Bradley's was in stark contrast to Schneider's ensemble. Here, Hicks, a pianist who wallops his instrument to issue dark, robust tones, chose the jazz classics for himself, Lovano and bassist Walter Booker to investigate. The audience might have been treated to Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning" or Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes."
On each, Lovano's breathy sound and smooth-then-angular ideas were a springboard to Hicks' dynamic improvisations, which were replete with groups of notes played so furiously fast they blurred in the air, and hard-hit clusters that seemed to stop time.
Critic's Choices: Trumpet great Conte Candoli and pianist Frank Strazzeri, a Bud Powell devotee, are members of guitarist Sid Jacobs' quartet, holding forth Tuesday at the Club Brasserie; Jacobs is also there Wednesday. Candoli can also be heard with altoist Bud Shank's sextet tonight and Saturday at the Jazz Bakery.