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Maxwell going for more melodic, more mature jazz

April 14th, 2011

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Pioneer Press

Shawn Maxwell is firmly establishing himself on the jazz scene, with three well-received CDs and an upcoming fourth likely to garner accolades. But, while his sax performances and compositions have matured with time and experience, one of Maxwell's new song titles was chosen from a decidedly juvenile source.

His "Monster Shoes," it seems, was not a reference to the Coltrane classic, "Giant Steps." Maxwell chuckled, saying, "No. It was from something my 3-year-old daughter, Ava, said. We were shopping for shoes and she saw a pair that had a face with the toes as teeth, and said 'monster shoes!'"

When not shoe shopping or attending to other familyconcerns, Maxwell is immersed in his music. He teaches music to students at Traughber Junior High in Oswego, performs jazz at gigs all over Chicagoland, and composes and records his fresh-sounding originals. His upcoming CD, "Urban Vigilante," will be released soon on the Chicago Sessions label at a party at Andy's Jazz Club in Chicago's River North.

Maxwell, a Joliet native now residing in North Aurora, is well known for his outstanding 'chops,' but his compositions sparkle with melodic twists and turns, and his latest recording features a smoother sax with longer lines.

Said Maxwell: "There are a million saxophone players out there, and they all can burn, shred, can play Coltrane and Parker. I personally feel that gets old. I'll do that here and there, but my playing is just trying to be different from the other guys, to have a melody that works as a hook, then follow it. When you listen to a solo of mine, you never really know where it's going. I want to make you interested in where it's going."

He recognizes his evolution as a jazz composer.

"I'm still proud of my earlier originals, the approach and tone, but think my compositions are more mature now, and I utilize the strengths of my band," he explained. "The new songs have different time signatures, different approaches, the solos vary from some filled with chord changes, others riffing over a chord. We can all swing, but there's also chunks of rock, funk, and Latin."

The album cover for the new "Urban Vigilante" will be done by artist, Charley Krebs, award-winning cartoonist for Chicago Jazz Magazine.

"I'm a comic book fan," said Maxwell, "so I hired Charley to do something that looks like an old comic book cover. We went with that concept. The cover will be me as a comic book hero, looking dark and brooding, long leather jacket, holding my saxophone."