people say to me, 'You should have been born fifty years earlier',"
conductor/saxophonist/scholar Loren Schoenberg told John Robert
Brown in an interview found on The
Jazz Museum in Harlem's website. "Of course I would
have grown up to the great music of Benny Goodman and Artie
Shaw. And I'd have probably spent my life interviewing the
widow of Scott Joplin!" A historian by nature, Loren
Schoenberg became a fixture in the jazz world with his encyclopedic
knowledge about the genre and passion for preserving its past
while making it eminently contemporary. Today, in addition
to his work performing, conducting, writing, and teaching,
Schoenberg has been named Executive Director of The Jazz Museum
Loren Schoenberg was born July 23, 1958 in Fairlawn, New
Jersey. His father worked for the New York Telephone Company.
His mother, a children's librarian, began teaching Loren the
piano when he was three. A year later, she found a neighborhood
piano teacher to take her son beyond simple scales. Schoenberg's
love of old films led him to Benny Goodman, and his love of
Goodman's music made Schoenberg a jazz fan in the early 1970s.
Jazz's heyday as a popular music form was over by that point,
and while Schoenberg was collecting classic 78 rpm records
by jazz originators like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton,
and "Fats" Waller, most of his peers were busy listening
to rock and roll and folk music.
Scholars disagree over how to best define jazz. In his book,
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Jazz (2002),
Schoenberg wrote: "What makes Jazz music different from
country, classical, rock, and other well-known genres is its
basic malleability. . . . The great majority of it is not,
as many believe, spun out of the air, but is rather a highly
organized and (hopefully) spontaneous set of theme and variations."
Rock and roll supplanted jazz as popular music in the 1950s,
and by the time Schoenberg discovered it, many of jazz's greatest
practitioners had fallen out of the spotlight and were often
struggling to find gigs. Subsequently, the young aficionado
was able to watch the greats perform up close and personal
in humble venues as nearby as Hackensack, New Jersey, talking
to them afterwards and occasionally invited to demonstrate
his own skills for his idols, who were impressed that someone
as young as Schoenberg was still interested in the genre.
It was in this way that Schoenberg received informal piano
lessons from master jazz pianists Teddy Wilson and Hank Jones.
In 1972, Teddy Wilson brought his young protégé
to a jazz performance at the Waldorf Astoria where Schoenberg
first met Benny Goodman.
That same year, Schoenberg began volunteering at the now-defunct
Jazz Museum in New York City, meeting more jazz musicians
and growing involved in the scene. It was while volunteering
that Schoenberg, at the urging of cornetist Ruby Braff, met
respected piano and music theory teacher Sanford Gold, who
did a great deal to supplement Schoenberg's musical foundations
with lessons on piano and musical theory. Also at the Jazz
Museum, the fifteen year-old met Benny Goodman again, while
working on the Museum's Goodman exhibit. Later, two producers
from the radio station WBAI were referred to Schoenberg as
the local jazz expert, while researching an upcoming show
on jazz music. They brought the youngster on the air for an
interview. Schoenberg enjoyed the experience so much that
he produced two more shows for the station, interviewing several
well- known jazz musicians himself. At 15, he began to teach
himself how to play the saxophone, inspired by jazz saxophonist
Lester Young. In 1976, his piano lessons with Sanford Gold
made it possible for Schoenberg to enter the prestigious Manhattan
School of Music as a music theory major, with a minor in piano.
While at school, Schoenberg got a job playing sax in Eddie
Durham's jazz quartet. "I'd been jamming, sitting in
and waiting for an opportunity," Schoenberg said recently.
"I was one of a very small group of young guys interested
in these great old jazz players at the time. . . . They were
happy to have somebody who knew all the old songs." Playing
with Durham, one of the original members of the Count Basie
band, gave Schoenberg opportunities to meet and work with
jazz musicians such as Al Casey, Sammy Price, Roy Eldridge,
Jabbo Smith, Eddie Barefield, Jo Jones, and Panama Francis.
After two years at Manhattan School of Music, Schoenberg switched
his major to saxophone. In 1979, he produced a Charlie Parker
and Lester Young tribute at Carnegie Recital Hall, arranging
the songs, gathering the musicians, and performing with them.
The concert featured Howard McGhee, Joe Albany, Buddy Anderson,
Dickey Wells, Eddie Bert, Herb Ellis and Mel Lewis among others.
It garnered Schoenberg the first of many glowing reviews in
The New York Times.
In 1980, Schoenberg received an unexpected call from none
other than Benny Goodman. The clarinetist intended to donate
his collection of historical jazz arrangements to the New
York Public Library for posterity. Schoenberg, known around
the jazz world as a history buff and an expert on Goodman's
music in particular, was the perfect choice to compile the
archive and write the accompanying documents. Schoenberg left
the Manhattan School of Music to work on the collection, which
were to be divvied out to the library in yearly installments.
Meanwhile, Schoenberg formed the Loren Schoenberg Big Band,
a repertory group devoted to performing the more obscure classics
of the '30s, '40s, and '50s, though it eventually performed
new works as well. "It was difficult to keep the guys
together because there was really no work," he told Stuart
Troup in (New York) Newsday (May 26, 1989). "We would
spend ten months rehearsing and have a one-night gig."
Eventually, however, the skill of the performers and the quality
of the arrangements began to make a difference. "We began
to get enough gigs so that it was hard to find time to rehearse,"
he told Troup. The band won over jazz critics with its musicality
and deft handling of the classics. "Mr. Schoenberg .
. . knows exactly how to calibrate his orchestra," Peter
Watrous wrote for The New York Times (July 14,
1994), after seeing the band perform at the Village Vanguard.
". . . The band crackled with energy and intelligence,"
Watrous added, "and never once raised its voice without
reason." The band has also performed at many other major
venues, including the Blue Note, Michael's Pub, and Carnegie
A few years after he began, Benny Goodman decided to stop
donating his arrangements to the New York Public Library.
He hired Schoenberg on as his assistant, however, and later,
as his personal and business manager. In 1982, Schoenberg
got his own weekly radio show on WKCR, where he played old
jazz recordings, interviewed musicians, produced documentary
specials, and broadcast live performances. Schoenberg continued
hosting jazz shows at WKCR until 1990. In 1984, Schoenberg
became a co-host of Jazz from the Archives, a radio show on
WBGO run by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University,
where he continues to occasionally participate as one of several
hosts on the program. Also in 1984, the Loren Schoenberg Big
Band released its first album, That's the Way It Goes.
The band would go on to release Time Waits for No One
(1987), Solid Ground (1988), Just A-Settin' and
A-Rockin' (1989), Manhattan Work Song (1992), and
Out of this World (1999). Schoenberg recorded S'posin'
in 1990 with a quartet, and has recorded with other jazz musicians
such as Benny Carter, John Lewis, and Jimmy Heath. In 1985,
Schoenberg's band formed an association with the New York
Swing Dance Society, and began providing the accompaniment
for the organization's dance events all over the city. Until
that point, Goodman, Schoenberg's boss, had shown little interest
in hearing the Loren Schoenberg Big Band. "It was frustrating
. . .," Schoenberg told John McDonough in the Chicago
Tribune (April 2, 1989). "He didn't think of
me as a working musician." Despite frequent hinting by
Schoenberg, Goodman had never asked to even see a rehearsal
or listen to the band's first record. Then, to Schoenberg's
surprise and delight, Goodman asked the band to perform with
him on a 1985 PBS television special, Let's Dance, which turned
out to be Goodman's last televised performance. In recalling
the very first rehearsal with Goodman, Schoenberg told McDonough,
"I guess that's why my knees shook when he walked through
the door at RCA carrying his clarinet. Benny Goodman was going
to play with my band. He could have had any band in the world
he wanted, with any players. Money was no object. But this
was the band he picked. I had to sit down."
Benny Goodman died in 1986; his will stipulated that all
his remaining jazz arrangements and recordings be donated
to Yale University. Schoenberg was the obvious choice to appraise
the Goodman Archives, and Yale later hired him to help curate
the collection, and to compile a 10-CD set of never-before-released
Goodman recordings. Also in 1986, Schoenberg joined the American
Jazz Orchestra, where he remained until 1992, playing tenor
sax and later following John Lewis as its musical director.
He has also conducted the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and
the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. In 1988 and 1989,
Schoenberg conducted the West German Radio Orchestra for a
series of concerts, performing the works of George Gershwin
and Duke Ellington for audiences in Cologne. Also during that
period, he led, with Mel Lewis, a band for "third stream"
jazz great Gunther Schuller in Japan.
In 1993, Schoenberg was musical director for that year's
International Duke Ellington Conference. Schoenberg has won
2 Grammys for his writing: in 1994, together with Dan Morgenstern,
he won a Grammy Award for Best Album Notes for the accompanying
materials to Louis Armstrong: Portrait Of The Artist As
A Young Man 1923-1934, a boxed set of rare and essential
recordings from the jazz great's early years, and in 2005,
he captured his second Grammy for Best Liner Notes for the
The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Woody Herman And His
Orchestra & Woodchoppers (1945-1947) for Mosaic Records.
Night club legend Bobby Short hired Schoenberg as his musical
director and saxophonist in 1997, a position he retained until
Shorts passing in 2005. In September 1998, Schoenberg
participated in a televised jazz music special filmed at the
White House with President Clinton, along with Wynton Marsalis,
Marian McPartland, Dr. Billy Taylor, and Dr. David Baker.
Schoenberg played his sax and spoke about the long history
of the quintessentially American art form. In 2001, well-known
documentary filmmaker Ken Burns brought Schoenberg on as an
advisor for his ambitious JAZZ documentary. Also that year,
Schoenberg became a host on the SWING channel, on Sirius satellite
Schoenberg has been a prolific writer on jazz. His articles
have appeared in The New York Times, The
Lester Young Reader, The Oxford Companion to
Jazz, and Masters of the Jazz Saxophone.
In the summer of 2002, Schoenberg's first book, The
NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Jazz, was published
by Perigee Books, with an introduction by Wynton Marsalis.
Also in 2002, Schoenberg was appointed Executive Director
of a proposed National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Though the museum
has yet to find a permanent home, buzz has already been generated
amongst jazz fans. "I'm already getting phone calls from
people who find it on the Internet," Schoenberg told
John Robert Brown in an interview found on the Museum's Web
site. "'We'd like to bring our family up. What time
does it open?' It's very clear that this is an idea who time
had come. It's long overdue. America does not have a first
class jazz museum in a major city." Leonard Garment,
an adviser to President Nixon and the Museums first
Chairman, managed to secure the project a million-dollar grant
from Congress in 2000, but significantly money more will have
to be raised. "Of course you can't build a jazz museum
with a million dollars in New York City," Schoenberg
admitted. The choice of Harlem for the jazz museum's home
was an obvious one to the saxophonist. "The museum must
be deeply rooted in the Harlem community," Schoenberg
told Brown. "A museum like this will only succeed if
there is a perception that it comes from the community and
it receives support from the community leaders, and all the
others in the locality, who have everything to gain from this.
Harlem has been an incredible cradle for jazz. Importantly,
it continues to be." In June 2003, Schoenberg and his
National Jazz Museum in Harlem All-Stars band performed at
the White House to raise awareness about the museum project.
The band played with a special guest performer: Herb Jeffries,
a 92 year- old baritone singer and an original member of the
Duke Ellington Orchestra. After the performance, President
Bush declared June Black Music Month. They have also created
a strong relationship to the community through their HARLEM
SPEAKS interview series and educational programs based in
Recently, Nat Hentoff wrote in JazzTimes: Loren
Schoenberg is a first-class musician, arranger, leader, and
a critic with a rare comprehensive perception in the tradition
of the late Martin Williams. The Encyclopedia of
Popular Music says: "It is Schoenberg's chosen role
as dedicated archivist, educator and energetic advocate for
jazz that is his greatest contribution to the music that he
loves." Today, Schoenberg's Big Band continues to appear
occasionally, though merely as "a labor of love,"
according to Schoenberg. In addition to his duties as Executive
Director of the Jazz Museum, Schoenberg is on the faculty
of Julliard's Institute for Jazz Studies, and Jazz at Lincoln
Center's Jazz 101 series. He has taught at the New School,
the Manhattan School of Music, William Paterson University,
SUNY/Purchase, the Essentially Ellington Band Director's Academy
in Snowmass, Colorado, The Julliard Evening School, and Long
Island University. In addition, he has given lectures at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Philharmonic.
Schoenberg is the Program Director of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass
Jazz Colony summer program.