Thursday, September 29, 2016

Chicago musician Shawn Maxwell continues to move forward with latest project, New Tomorrow


The title of Shawn Maxwell's new group and album, New Tomorrow, also aptly describes his musical vision.

The innovative Chicago jazz saxophonist and his bandmates will celebrate the release of the new album by performing Oct. 2 at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago. The show starts at noon and tickets are $10, available at City Winery's website,

I had the chance to talk to Maxwell about his latest project.

Q - Great talking to you again. I understand that you wanted to make your new album more personal than your previous efforts. How did you go about doing that?

Well, with every album I become more comfortable in my own skin. Meaning I feel more comfortable with how and what I want to say.

I no longer worry about following rules or trying to fit into a certain box. It also doesn’t hurt to have a band full of good friends that not only are great musicians, but are great guys as well.

Q - You put together a new group for this album, adding Victor Garcia, Chad McCullough, Corey Wilkes to your working quartet. What do you think your new group brings to the table and what do you think they brought to this album?

In my opinion, this group is a new direction for me and perhaps for jazz. We’re mixing several elements of different genres while still maintaining the spirit of jazz.

There is a strong emphasis on composition as well as improvisation, which sets it apart from several other groups. As far as Victor, Chad & Corey…I was lucky enough to have three super bad trumpet players who all sound fantastic on this album.

The really great thing is that each one of them has their very own distinct voice/sound. Victor doesn’t sound like Chad who doesn’t sound like Corey, and that’s awesome.

Each trumpet brings their own touch to the tunes they play on which makes the band unique from track to track.

Q - "New Tomorrow" is the name of your group and the new album. How would you say this project represents a new tomorrow for you?

It is the first time I’ve worked with this instrumentation, the classic alto sax/trumpet quintet, but with a very big twist. The extra importance on composition and the mixture of genres has me on a new path.

I really want to be different and have my own voice. As I said before, I feel the best I ever have and the most comfortable. I’m excited to take this group to the next level.

Q - You have been recording music since 2004. How would you say your music has evolved since then?

I’d say that now I’m more myself. Yes, I am a jazz musician/fan but I also listen to other genres of music.

I grew up listening to all kinds of different music. Stuff like Guns N' Roses, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and a ton of classical music, just to name a few.

The evolution of my music is the presence of all of these different groups and genres. I’d like to think that by mixing in all of these different influences that I am creating a very unique sound that is all my own.

So that’s the biggest part of my music evolution…I sound more like me and not someone else.

Q - What do you think your contribution has been to the Chicago music scene and to the Chicago jazz scene in particular?

I’d like to think I’m pushing others to create and grow, as they have pushed me. There are several musicians who constantly challenge me, in a good way, to become better.

Without them I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what I do. I would hope that other musicians would say the same for me.

Q - What drew you to jazz in the first place?

Improvisation! When I was younger it both excited and scared me.

It doesn’t get much deeper than having a jazz musician improvise. It’s sharing a story and a part of one’s self, a truly personal and magical thing. I don’t feel any other genre has the ability to be as personal as jazz.

Q - I know that you became quite the performer as part of the  Joliet Central High School band program, and that you went on  to obtain a bachelor’s degree in music from Milliken University. What advice would you give to a high school student looking to break into the music business?

First off, however much you’re practicing now, you need to do more. The level of players in the real world, and outside of your high school, is much higher than you can ever imagine.

I think a lot of high school students get into the “big fish, little pond” mentality. The music business is a huge ocean and in order to succeed you need to put in the work to be able to hang.

Second, listen. Go to concerts; buy CDs or MP3s, etc. You can learn so much by listening to music, especially genres outside of your wheel house.

As I said before, other musicians help push and influence me in my direction. So if you’re unaware of the music around you, well you won’t grow. 

Last, start treating the music business like a business. It’s not too early to start networking. 

Meet people, be courteous and make a good impression. A good portion of gigs and opportunities come from relationships you create. 

Jazz is a beautiful art form but if no one knows who you are, they can’t hire you.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I have about six other groups that are in the plans right now. I don’t want to share too much, because it’s going to take me a while to get them all going.

My goal is to release an album with each of these different bands, while maintaining the few I have now, each year. In these different bands there will be collaborations with guys that I really look up to, as musicians and people.

Sorry to sound cryptic, but you will know more on this soon.

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