Primary Instrument: Keyboard
Some composers suffer for their art. Steve Lindeman commuted for his — from Salt Lake City to New York and back, twice a month, for three years.
That's what it took for the Brigham Young University professor to become one of the furthest f lung member s of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. Jim McNeely, the workshop's musical director, had to have been more than a little skeptical when he first came across Lindeman's application: How could someone who lived in Utah possibly attend the required biweekly meetings in BMI's New York office, nine months out of twelve? He soon discovered how deep Lindeman's commitment — and talent — was.
With the release of Lindeman's stylistically far - reaching debut album, The Day After Yesterday , the listening public gets its turn to discover his distinctive approach to modern big band composing. Featuring BYU's highly regarded Synthesis ensemble, led by the school's director of jazz studies, Ray Smith, the album joins recent works by John Hollenbeck, Maria Schneider , and Gil Evans protégé Ryan Truesdell in putting a fresh gloss on familiar forms. Offbeat sonorities and unusual instrumental combinations, episodic shifts, extended silences, overdubbed vocal choruses — they're all part of Lindeman's approach, which loses no thing in the way of swinging urgency or harmonic sweetness in embracing what Oliver Nelson called the abstract truth.
I'm not a fan of traditional big band music — it doesn't speak to me, said Lindeman, a late bloomer at 58 whose music reflects an early love for rock artists such as the Beatles, the Doors , and Stevie Wonder, as well as jazz - rock pioneer Chick Corea, whose use of the Fender Rhodes electric piano opened a door for him as a keyboardist and composer.
In McNeely, distinguished pianist and composer - in - residence with the Vanguard Orchestra, Lindeman found a kindred spirit. He was always encouraging experimentation, thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo, while respecting and tipping our hat to the lineage of Gil Evans, Manny A lbam , and Bob Brookmeyer, he said. The rich diversity of sounds at the BMI W orkshop, where it wasn't unusual to hear Shakuhachi flutes and flamenco guitars, pushed me in a new direction.
Lindeman grew up 50 minutes south of Indianapolis in Columbus, Indiana, an amazing place for a small Midwestern town known for its modern architecture by the likes of Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei . But he was no stranger to New York. After getting his undergraduate degree in jazz studies from Indiana University (where his teachers included David Baker), he acquired a master's in music theory from Queens College and a Ph.D in theory and history from Rutgers University.
While at Rutgers, he began researching an unpublished two - piano concerto by Felix Mendelssohn. His eff orts, which took him to Berlin as a Fellow at the American Academy, led to the first - ever recording of Mendelssohn's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E Major by the American Piano Duo and BYU Philharmonic Orchestra. The CD was released to acclaim i n 2006.
Before joining the music faculty at BYU, Lindeman lived on the E ast C oast for 20 years, surviving musically as a freelance pianist while studying with such distinguished artists as Ronnie Mathews, Kenny Barron, Barry Harris , and Israeli Tamir He ndelman. He started out composing for small ensembles. Thanks to BYU, which funded his trips to the BMI W orkshop as well as the recording of The Day After Yesterday, he attained his dream of becoming a full - fledged jazz large ensemble artist. The album was produced by Ray Smith, a multi - reed virtuoso with whom Lindeman plays in the Q'd u p faculty quintet , and who appears as a guest soloist on the CD . It was recorded in Provo, in the state of the art studio sometimes used by t he Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
In general, Mormons are really into music, said Lindeman. They prize its development at the highest level. They believe music manifests spiritual qualities. But as he quickly found, they are also open to secular influences, as witness the resumes of esteemed Utah music educator William Fowler's four sons, who variously played with Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, in fusion and Latin bands and in Hollywood studios.
Lindeman's musical outlook has been strongly shaped by th e Salt Lake City lifestyle and the natural beauty that surrounds him there. The pace of life is much slower here than in New York, he said. Looking across the salt flats, which I've done a lot with all my commuting, you can't help but absorb the pastora l quality of life out here. That is certainly reflected in my compositions — in the sustained chords, for example, and the long silences and rests.
Nothing inspires Lindeman, however, as much as family. Most of the tunes on The Day After Yesterday were wr itten for or about the people closest to him. The lyrical but adventurous Lavender Flowers on Her Table was written for his mother Winnie, who loved the color lavender, and his daughter Scarlett, who never knew her grandmother but revealed a cosmic conne ction to her with an arrangement of lavender flowers in her Brooklyn apartment. Adding to the deep family values here, Steve's musician son Samuel helped shape the composition.
Lindeman based the bittersweet ballad, I Remember, on a favorite recording o f his father Clifford's: country - yodeling Australian vocalist Frank Ifield's 1963 hit version of the Johnny Mercer classic, I Remember You. Also referencing Benny Golson's classic tribute to Clifford Brown, I Remember Clifford, Lindeman's tune is lifte d by a soprano saxophone solo by Jory Woodis that is as tricky as it is gorgeous: Do you hear the palindrome during the solo section? the composer asks in his album notes.
With its abrupt stops and starts and dramatic mood shifts, Take a Jake Break ca ptures the rambunctious spirit of his son Jake as a young boy. Shifting meters capture the colorful contradictory spirit of Lindeman's 90 - year - old Aunt Jeanne, a Broadway dancer in the '40s and '50s who had complicated moves of her own. The mysterious, h armonically elusive Ll é vame ya al Mundo de las Maravillas (Take Me to Wonderland Right Away )” fea tures Kelly Eisenhour, who sings her own lyrics and adds multiple overdubbed background vocals. The song is dedicated to Swedish piano great Stefan Karlsson, with whom Lindeman studied at the Stanford Jazz Workshop.
The unlikely changes in direction in Lindeman's own life and career are mirrored by the album's refusal to remain in one stylistic place for very long. It's perfectly natural for him to follow th e dreamy October, Last, with its autumnal hues and eerily bowed vibraphone and bass, with Verloren — German for lost but here translated into Latin jazz via a scintillating exchange between multi - percussionist Jay Lawrence on timbales and Ron Brough on congas.
And then there's Lindeman's alternately haunting and blissful reflection of childhood, Meet Me When the Stars Come Out, one of the songs that grew out of McNeely's directive to read great plays like Death of a Salesman and Long Day's Journ ey Into Night for compositional insight. He wanted us to see how a completely new character might enter the drama and perhaps stimulate or initiate a new direction to where the piece might develop. Beethoven applied that principal in the Eroica Symphony , and springing new themes is something Ellington and Strayhorn would do in extended works as well, but it has been less commo n in traditional approaches to big band composition .
Covering as broad a canvas as Lindeman does on Th e Day After Yesterday can be risky, but he wouldn't have it any other way. If a play were to be written about him, it would have to have at least three acts, and be presented on a large stage. How else to do justice to all those miles traveled, and all tho se huge artistic strides made?