By ERIC SCHELKOPF
On his latest album, innovative Chicago jazz saxophonist Shawn Maxwell wants you to know what's on his mind, or rather, the music that's in his mind.
To celebrate the release of "Music in My Mind," Maxwell and his band, New Tomorrow, will do a residency from July 26 to 29 at Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago. More information is at jazzshowcase.com
I had the chance to talk to Maxwell about the new album and upcoming showcase.
Q – Great talking to you again. There seems like there should be a story behind the name of the album, "Music in My Mind." Is there? Is this the music that was always in your mind that you are now getting out to the world?
Yes, kind of. I’ve mentioned in past interviews that early on in my career, I felt like I had to write and record a certain way.
I was constantly trying to fit into a certain box of what I thought people wanted to hear. Over the last handful of years, I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin and have decided to embrace exactly what I want to do.
"Music in My Mind" does represent exactly what I have been hearing, and wanting to do, for many years. My compositions are the soundtrack to my life, encouraged by the people, places and things around me.
I take all of that in and then mix it in with different genres and we ended up with our latest album.
Q – This is the second album you have made with the group of musicians called New Tomorrow. What do you like about working with them? How do you think the band has evolved since the first album?
The musicians involved in this group are some of the best in Chicago and beyond. Working with them is always a pleasure.
Not only is it really fun, but we’re constantly pushing each other to go in different directions. Things never stay the same, which keeps us ever on our toes and growing as musicians.
It is a very rewarding experience working with these individuals. This group has become very good at taking my compositions and both staying true to my interpretation of them while also adding in their own personal touches.
This is a big reason that our tunes, and the overall album, have a unique feel and flavor. Over the last few albums, you can hear that continue to grow as we continue to work together.
Q – How do you think your playing has evolved since the last album?
I’m constantly reevaluating how I approach my playing, so hopefully it’s not only evolving per album, but per week. From our last album to "Music In My Mind," I feel like I’m trying to build more and tell a better overall story.
I try to think about how I can add to a tune and complement what all of the other musicians are doing. This has been an approach of mine for a long time now but, as the years go by, I feel like I grow stronger with this.
Q – Of course, you have a residency at Jazz Showcase to celebrate the release of the new album. What should people expect from the residency? Will you be playing a new set each night?
“Fun,” “different" and “new" are a few words I’d use. With the performers and compositions we have lined up, I don’t see how anyone will have less than a good time.
We also tend to mix different genres into jazz so there will be a good amount of change per tune. We will be featuring new tunes from our most recent album as well as newer versions of older Maxwell tunes from past albums.
We have 79 tunes to pick from so, while we will repeat a tune here or there, every night will be very different. We also have a few special guests each night.
On Thursday, we are joined by trumpeter Corey Wilkes. Friday brings in vocalist Dee Alexander as well as trumpeter Victor Garcia.
Saturday brings back Corey Wilkes on trumpet as well as vibraphonist Stephen Lynerd. Sunday we close out the weekend with Mr. Chad McCullough on trumpet.
Q – Do you have any favorite venues in the Chicago area?
Chicago is a great town for not only jazz but all genres of music. There are so many places that we enjoy performing at that I fear messing up and forgetting any.
That said, it’s always a great and magical time when get to perform at the Jazz Showcase.
Q – What do you think of the Chicago jazz scene and where do you see yourself fitting into it? Do you draw inspiration from any other musicians in the area?
The jazz scene, like any other, is always moving and changing. I try not to think about how I fit into it and instead focus on doing my thing.
I am inspired and driven by all musicians and everything they do. There is always something to learn and I try to keep my eyes and ears open at all times.
Luckily Chicago has several great musicians so inspiration is pretty easy to come by.