Maria Neckam is a New York-based vocalist and composer and one of the most original young voices on the international stage. The New York Times describes her as “a jazz singer of composure and purpose” and “clear-water tones”, NPR simply as “lovely”. Hailed as “a natural wonder” by Le Monde and “a valiant trailblazer” by JazzTimes, DownBeat compares her with Joni Mitchell, Mahler and Schoenberg and says she “functions as a coequal instrumentalist and deft storyteller, using a clear fluid voice to convey raw emotions with philosophical detachment.“ Maria has performed all over the US and Europe with her band that features much sought-after talent such as pianist Aaron Parks and bassist Thomas Morgan. In 2010 she made her Sunnyside debut with Deeper, a session that led All About Jazz to name her one of the most significant “New Discoveries” of the year. Describing herself as an artist who uses her vocal and composition skills to cross lines, Maria embraces her youthful energy when she rocks out, but always stays grounded in her musical savvy. As All About Jazz has noted, “She has a natural ability for heartbreaking emotion, in much the same way that Billie Holiday did.” Her latest album Unison, released June 2012 on Sunnyside, captures her in all her kaleidoscopic splendor, delivering a program of exceptionally divergent original songs that sound unlike any other singer on the scene.
not so short:
In hindsight the early 21st century is going to look like a golden age for jazz vocals, an era defined by the emergence of an international array of artists possessing strikingly original sounds. No one better embodies jazz’s glorious profusion of vocal talent than Austrian-born Maria Neckam, a singer possessing an exquisitely calibrated soprano and a poetic sensibility informed by avant pop, contemporary classical music and post-bop improvisation. Her new album Unison, released June 6th 2012 on Sunnyside, captures her in all her kaleidoscopic splendor, delivering a program of exceptionally divergent original songs that sound unlike any other singer on the scene.
Growing up in Vienna, Neckam soaked up the city’s sumptuous cultural offerings, developing a passion for opera, pop, musical theater, rock and sacred hymns. She studied piano and started writing songs on guitar while launching a series of rock combos, recording with Sounds of Silence and performing as a solo act.
By her mid-teens she found her way to jazz and quickly realized that the music provided an ideal outlet for her burgeoning musical imagination. Enrolled at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, her musical horizons expanded exponentially, as she connected with musicians from around the world. She immersed herself in contemporary classical music, honed her jazz technique, studied Hindustani, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian traditions and played drum ‘n’ bass. She even found time to record her first album, Crossing and Blending, a stylistically expansive world-jazz session.
As stimulating as she found her years in the Netherlands, Neckam never really felt comfortable in Amsterdam. Moving to New York City, she immediately realized she had found her place. “After two weeks I felt home, it just felt right,” Neckam says. “The music scene was not so open in the Netherlands. It was much harder as a foreigner to get anything going. In Europe there’s the attitude of the suffering artist, and teachers can be quite mean. People end up leaving school broken. Here everyone was so positive and supportive, and working hard was a positive thing.”
By the time she graduated with an MA from the Manhattan School of Music in 2007, she had studied with master vocalists Luciana Souza, Peter Eldridge and Theo Bleckmann, tabla expert Samir Chatterjee, and pianist/composer Nils Vigeland. The colleagues she’s collaborated with include many of the most influential and stimulating improvisers on the scene, including Thomas Morgan, Dan Weiss, David Binney, Aaron Parks, Peter Eldridge, Aaron Goldberg, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gerald Clayton, Ben Monder, Jeff Ballard, Jon Cowherd, Gilad Hekselman, Lewis Nash, Jonathan Kreisberg, Logan Richardson, Mark Guiliana, Matt Penman, Miles Okazaki, Will Vinson, Joe Martin, Lage Lund, the Mahavishnu Project, Mike Moreno and Colin Stranahan.
She made her Sunnyside debut in 2010 with Deeper, a session that led All About Jazz to name her one of the most significant “New Discoveries” of the year. As the title suggests, Unison is a more cohesive session, though it still reflects her expansive sonic palette (lately she’s been channeling her love of dance music and electronica into her electronic music project milán). Her music doesn’t fit neatly into jazz, but given her web of musical relationships, rhythmic dexterity and improvisational skills she’s indelibly linked to the New York scene.
“I really feel a part of society here,” Neckam says. “This is where I want to be.” With a team of top-shelf players dedicated to her wildly inventive, unapologetically beautiful music, Neckam is clearly in exactly the right place.