Maria Schafer Wants You To Know Love
Maria Schafer Photo One

To say that Maria Schafer is an old soul, a beautiful and classic voice from another era would seem to be stating the obvious, whether she is singing the Harry Warren and Mack Gordon song, “The More I See You” or Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” when she demonstrates her smooth, effortless scatting ability. Both songs are from her current album To Know Love. Where does that old soul vibe come from?

Maria Schafer explains, “I have always been a quiet, curious, studious type of person. It was not that I didn’t get along with children my own age; it was just that as I was growing up I was more interested in spending time with adults. I (wanted to know) what they were concerned about and I wanted to be a part of their conversations. I loved to do well in school and I was very shy. I loved to read and I was interested in the culture of the old school society that was presented in old movies from the forties through the sixties.

In high school I came across a movie called The Girl Can’t Help It featuring Jayne Mansfield and Julie London. Julie London plays a sultry ex-lover of one of the male leads. She keeps coming up in the movie singing “Cry Me A River,” which is the song that got me into Jazz. The way in which people conducted themselves and the way they communicated was always a little more attractive to me than present day communication styles. It branded me as an old soul and I hear that quite often.

Maria Schafer Photo TwoOne of the benefits for me of being a singer rather than an instrumentalist is we get these wonderful lyrics that are poetic and heartbreaking or uplifting, but they are poetry. We have the opportunity to sing those and they should not only be sung, but they should be conveyed in a way that is very personal and in a way that is very impactful to other people. It results in a bigger focus on phrasing, articulation and making sure that I sing the phrase just the way I would say it in real life, (such as) never stopping in the middle of a word for a breath or stopping unnaturally in the middle of a phase. It even comes into play with the way I shade my voice and if it is an angry or an irate type of a song there (needs to be) an edge to your voice. If there is heartbreak the voice should be somewhat weak or your voice should be emboldened if it was the type of love that makes you never look back and never look down again. You just keep moving on from that kind of heartbreak. That is the way I want to interpret songs, how they would be lived in real life, not just the way that an instrument might play them without the narrative that is attached to the lyric.”

When it comes to songs written by someone else, each singer needs to find a way to make them their own and Schafer talks about how she did just that with the song “The More I See You.”

“That one has a long history with me and with my guitarist Shane Savala. It is one of the songs that we started playing together during the first year that we worked together as a duo. It has definitely evolved. I love doing the verse of this tune, because the Great American Songbook has all of these tunes, which were originally written for musicals and often the verse is neglected or people don’t even know that it exists. On this particular arrangement I made sure I did the verse. It has a great melody and it is one that just sticks in your head. It sings itself with the way it was written.

I did that in a way that gave the verse every bit of energy and time that it wanted in terms of the lyrics. I love the song. It is adorable. It is sweet and it has a lot of optimism in it. It is about how wonderful things are now and it looks to the future and what the future will be like with someone you love and maybe have a partnership with. You know things are going to be even better,” she says.

Brad Black serves up a superb trumpet solo on “The More I See You,” and Schafer says, “I think that he has a beautiful solo that completely encapsulates that idea and he adds his own twist on it as well. That song was meant to be this little bubble of ambition and excitement for not only what is in the present, but for what could be in the future.”

She talks about some of the arrangements, “One of the new arrangements that I wrote for this album was for the song “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” That is another one for which I recorded the verse and I have only heard the verse sung by two people. I really wanted to make sure that on that particular track that I included the verse. I thought about how people sing that song. Quite often it is sung as a lament by a forlorn person who runs headlong into relationships, goes into things too aggressively and then things end prematurely, because they went too quickly and they fell in love too easily.

I got a bit cheeky with this arrangement. The character in the song is a little more capricious and digs into that side of her personality. She has the attitude yeah, I fall in love, I play hard and I work hard. It burns out fast and bright, but boy it’s fun, while we are doing it.

I wanted to do the verse and the song in this 5 / 4 feel rather than the typical 4 / 4 that it is written in. Part of the reason for the 5 / 4 is it extends the phrases harmonically and it gives the lyric a little more time to breathe. As I am singing I am talking about my heart should be well schooled, because I have been fooled in the past and that part gets big and louder. There is more activity from the band, before it falls back to this lighter, reminiscent part when the singer is laughing at herself and (saying) you think I would have learned by now and yet I haven’t and I don’t mind. I put an interlude at the end of the form, which serves as a launching pad out into the guitar solo and it seems to reset things. With each new relationship or each new endeavor into love the character experiences this rebirth. That was my intent with the interlude,” she says.

While we would rather talk about Maria Schafer’s torch like vocals on “Lush Life,” when she is accompanied by bassist Joe Butts, the conversation shifts to what she describes as a “quite ambitious arrangement.”

“I love the idea of playing with just an acoustic bass, as the other harmonic instrument. Having these two instruments that are continually checking their tuning against their context seems like a great adventure. It can go wonderfully or it can go very wrong if the trust isn’t there between the musicians.

“Lush Life,” and “Summer,” are about haunted people. “Summer,” is about a love that has passed and “Lush Life,” is about a life that has really passed. The idea for having such sparse arrangements for each song was a life that used to be exuberant and full of vitality and now that person is burned out. The purpose of writing the arrangements so ambitiously in my mind was to test myself and to test my musicians as well and to see where you can take it. When there is not a lot on the page in terms of an arrangement and you do not put any constraints on where the music can go, you can take it quite far.

I think that Joe’s playing on both tracks is just absolutely beautiful. I am so glad I got to work with him and I felt like his bass playing was a perfect complement to how I was singing the lyrics. He is very lyrical in his playing.

The only way that you can grow personally, professionally, in your friendships and your romances is by challenging yourself and not by staying the course. The growth occurs in that spot where you want to be, but you also aren’t quite sure if you have the skills or the gumption or the strength or whatever aspects of your personality that you think you are missing. It is in that space where you are not quite sure what is going to happen. That’s where the magic happens and where the growth happens,” she says. Maria Schafer Photo Three

Drummer Kyle Sharamitaro was a musical colleague of Brad Black’s from New Orleans, where the album was recorded, so he was invited to add his playing to the already excellent musicians who appear on To Know Love. Maria Schafer describes the musicians as being “phenomenally musically talented” and “who also have great attitudes.”

Even though Maria Schafer is on the road touring worldwide with the Glenn Miller Orchestra between forty-six and forty-eight weeks each year, she considers Long Beach, California to be home.

“That is where I got my start as a singer and where most of my connections still are. I am starting to make my way back into the LA Jazz scene,” she says.

Schafer was born in Burnaby, British Columbia (adjacent to Vancouver) and as she recalls through the eyes of a child that period of her life it sounds idyllic, “We were next to the nature preserve there. The back of our yard extended into the forest. There were all of these beautiful trees rising up around the house. It was a very tight knit community and we knew all of our neighbors on both sides. Growing up there instilled in me this great love for nature. It could be one of the reasons why I was quiet as a child, because there were not a lot of children around, just a lot of nature.  Even when I was in Oklahoma (where she lived later in her childhood) I would fancy myself as a Snow White character and I couldn’t really sing in front of people, but I would definitely sing to nature or to birds or to squirrels. I would sing to the wind and I would try to get creatures to come to me.

In Oklahoma I was in a small town with 5,500 people in it.

It was such a slow life it seemed. I had a carefree childhood and I could ride my bike anywhere or I could walk down the street anywhere. I remember trick or treating by myself, but in California it would be insane to let a child do anything (alone) it seems.

My experiences in Oklahoma seemed to make me value taking life slow and getting to know the people around me. It cultivated within me a sense of community and hard work. Being there reminded me of how important a work ethic is and how important it is to have integrity and being proud of what you do.

California is very fast and quick, super modern, go, go, go, achievement based and when I want to get away from that I just drive to one of the national parks. I have taken a bit from each place that I have lived. Those have been internalized into the good aspects of my character.”

It also makes it easier to understand where that “Old Soul” sensibility in her vocals comes from. Maria Schafer’s album To Know Love should be a treat for anyone who considers themselves to be a Jazz aficionado, superb, smooth, evocative vocals, enveloped in equally emotive instrumentals and set to very good arrangements. Do yourself a favor and visit your favorite digital music store and pick up a copy for yourself.  You can visit Maria Schafer's website here.      Return to Our Front Page

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This interview by Joe Montague  published January 8th, 2018 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of  Maria Schafer unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved