UM Jazz Band up for a Grammy

The School of Music is jazzing its way into the history books on Feb. 13 when it takes on the world’s best music at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards.

Featuring a piece from its criticallyacclaimed album, Romances, the Concert Jazz Band will be part of a nomination for Best Instrumental Composition, making it the first time the school has been recognized for a Grammy, according to Studio Music and Jazz Department Chair Whit Sidener. The band is also the only university-related group in the list of nominees.

“I was very surprised; I didn’t even know [the band] had been entered in the competition,” says Sidener. “[But] I think it’s deserved.”

Although the Grammys are actually honoring the song’s composer, Maria Schneider, Sidener insists that the band’s recording of the composition was the vehicle for the nomination.

“It’s a great testament to our department that we could produce something with our students that’s of professional quality,” Sidener says.

One of those students, Doug Leibinger, agrees. Leibinger, who played trombone on the original recording, says he was also surprised to hear about the nomination, but that he’s eager to see how it will fare at the Grammys.

“It’s a gorgeous piece [and] we did a nice job performing it,” says Leibinger, now Director of Studio Jazz Band. “It’s quite an honor to be included in something like that.”

The composition, entitled “Three Romances,” came to fruition in 2001 when the Abraham Frost Commission Series asked Schneider to write a piece for the band to premiere at Festival Miami.

Schneider, a former student at the University, penned a complex piece, which runs over 25 minutes and shifts between three distinct musical styles. In 2002, she joined the band to record the Grammy-nominated instrumental in Gusman Hall, directing and co-producing the session with Sidener.

“It was a really great experience, [the band was] just so flexible and patient,” says Schneider in a phone interview. “Anything I could write for my own group, I could write for them. I didn’t have to hold back at all.”

“It was a challenging piece,” Leibinger recalls. “It was really pushing the envelope in a real artistic manner. Maria’s stuff is definitely on the cutting edge of contemporary big band writing.”

Leibinger adds that because of Schneider’s innovative approach to music, the composition has a great chance at winning the Grammy, despite tough competition that includes Gabriel Yared, Paquito D’Rivera, Slide Hampton and Schneider’s own orchestra.

But Schneider credits the band for the nomination, saying she never doubted their ability to bring the composition to life. Being the only university band in the list of nominees, she says it speaks volumes about their future.

“The great thing about the UM band is that they’re at such a high level. It really is like working with a professional group,” says Schneider. “The band is without a doubt the strongest of the college bands in the states.”

Rafael Sangiovanni can be contacted at