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As an artist and an activist, Maria Schneider is fascinating.

Composer Maria Schneider

Composer Maria Schneider, from her photo session for the album Data Lords.

Aga Popęda here, starting my morning with jazz. Jazz sounds better on Sundays, when the week is getting old and nostalgic. Put the coffee on, as well as “El Toreador” by Gil Evans—an especially great track from The Individualism of Gil Evans, originally released on the Verve label in 1964—for a good start.

But how will you listen to “El Toreador”? Will you use Spotify on your phone? Apple Music? Will you help yourself to a free clip on YouTube? These are the questions being asked by Gil Evans’ one-time protégé, and the heroine of this week’s cover story, Maria Schneider

Schneider is fascinating. Not only is she a composer and the big jazz band leader with nine albums recorded and seven Grammys to her name, but she's also an activist, fighting big tech for musicians’ rights to get their fair share. What that fair share is—that’s an eternal question. The discussion has been ongoing for centuries. 

In the early 2000s, Schneider decided to release her fourth album, Concert in the Garden (2004) on the fan-funded platform ArtistShare. The album won her her first Grammy. Since 2020, Schneider has been involved with a lawsuit against YouTube and its parent company Google. She accused YouTube of mass copyright infringement, failing to suspend repeat infringers and restricting access to anti-piracy tools, among other allegations. The case continues.

You won’t find all nine albums by Maria Schneider on Spotify. But you will find there her “best of” collection and a single from the new album Data Lords, her recent “magnus opus” that bears the traces of her fight. The tracks of the album are thematically organized in two sections, which the liner notes call "a story of two worlds" and are much like a two-disk release. The two sections are named "The Digital World" and "The Natural World".

I spoke with Schneider in early February via Zoom. She connected from her Upper West Side apartment, with a red bike visible in the background. She was generous with her time and spoke not only about her magical journey from rural Minnestota to the biggest jazz stages in the world, but also about her beliefs, including her conviction that artists, writers and inventors are entitled to own their creations—as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. 

While reading about Schneider, consider listening to some of her music—whichever way you consume it. I would suggest starting with “Hang Gliding” from the 2020 album Allégresse, then perhaps “Walking by Flashlights” from the 2015 album Thompson’s Fields. Finally, give Data Lords a try, particularly “Sputnik,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition.


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