George Maurer is all three.
But if you asked him to trim his
talents to a single word, he would
simply say “collaborator”. Whether
he’s composing a score for a
movie or helping Eric Clapton with
a few chords, George has a
genius for working as part of a
creative team and realizing a
collective artistic vision.
He performs. He composes. He produces.
Add some arranging and music directing, and it’s clear why George Maurer considers his one-word job description to be “collaborator.” Whether he’s composing original music for Saint Paul City Ballet, arranging ’80s hits for the Minnesota Orchestra or selling out the Dakota Jazz Club with his band — again — George has a talent for working as part of a creative team and realizing a collective artistic vision.
George’s experience shows a special brand of versatility — unless you can think of other artists who have arranged music for the Chiffons, played for the Bill Clinton White House and helped Eric Clapton with a few chords.
Audiences across the country know George as a pianist/keyboardist who has played his way from Congress to the Crickets. He has been called Minnesota’s premier jazz pianist and gained acclaim with the George Maurer Group, Trio and The 2nd New Originals as well as his solo work and collaborations with vocalists.
But playing is just a small part of his repertoire. George has created original compositions for orchestra and ballet, big band and Bobby Vee. He writes original scores for film, theater and dance and has been called upon to arrange and produce music for an incredible diversity of projects including Twin Cities productions of “Swing!” and “Rent.”
George thrives on the textures and layers of multidimensional work, where each note can set the mood for a song or scene. He’s in high demand not only as a performer but also a composer and producer, arranger and music director. His passion for collaboration comes through in every note of every project he does.
What do the Minnesota Orchestra and Motley Crue’s Vince Neil have in common? George Maurer – and probably not much else.
George’s innate interest in different forms of music and his versatility as a performer have led him on many collaborative adventures. Jazz fans know him from his regular gigs with the George Maurer Jazz Group at acclaimed Twin Cities venue The Dakota Jazz Club and also his collaborations with vocalists such as Ruth McKenzie, Ann Michels, Ben Bakken, Dieter Bierbrauer, gospel singer Robert Robinson and musicians including guitarist Dave Barry (Cher, Janet Jackson) and the famed Minnesota Orchestra.
His ability to shift genres comes really comes through on the theatrical stage, where recent performances and music directing gigs include the high-energy, jazzy “Swing!” and highly acclaimed (and slightly outrageous) “Altar Boyz” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Minnesota’s largest dinner theater, plus a Twin Cities production of the rocktastic “Rent.”
The expandable George Maurer Group (Want horns? No problem. Dancers? Ditto.), versatile 2nd New Originals, and rambunctious George Maurer Trio have wowed crowds, sold out venues and earned stellar reviews across the Midwest.
They infuse their shows with humor, wit and musicianship, earning them a spot among the Upper Midwest’s jazz elite. “I love the improvisation and energy of a live show, performing for a live audience,” he says. “Our show typically involve a lot of laughter, and I think that’s part of what makes us memorable. There’s definitely a lot of personality on stage.”
Then there’s his rock side. The Minnesota Orchestra called on George to play keyboards and direct the band for its “’80s Rewind!” show, which saw a leather-pantsed George rock his way through the “me” decade, with more collaborations with the orchestra in the works.
With some help from fellow Minnesotan Bobby Vee, George has found himself surrounded by rock and roll legends. For example, Vee called on him to play keyboards for a Buddy Holly tribute show, during which George got to play the keys for Holly’s band, the Crickets. In 2004, Vee invited George to reprise his role as the Crickets’ keyboardist, and he found himself on stage at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip helping Eric Clapton with a few chords and — “Dr. Feelgood,” anyone? — playing with Vince Neil.
Just to keep things lively, George imbibes in side projects like the “Pet Sounds” show he performed with the band Collective Unconscious, which sold out show after show with performances of the Beach Boys’ seminal album. (The show marked George’s theremin debut.) Another indulgence is the Shake A Hamster band, which comes together once a year to write and perform hilarious parodies for KVSC 88.1-FM’s 50-hour trivia contest at St. Cloud State University.
His own recording label, Pine Curtain Records, celebrated its 25th anniversary in Summer 2011. Considering he started out as a new-age keyboard player in the 1980s, George has traveled a long and interesting musical journey. His introductions to different styles, instruments and collective histories add texture to his music while contributing to his unique voice as a musician. “I think, more than anything, it’s just being able to play any musical style that’s set in front of me. In terms of playing, it’s having the musical ear and repeating it back. It’s becoming a more stylized musician.”
George is famous among music circles for writing a steady stream of music for himself and other artists, including jazz, progressive and rock. But in recent years his composing has progressed to new venues that allow him to integrate his music with characters, emotions and action.
He has teamed up with writer Anne Bertram for his biggest project to date, “Empire Builder,” a modern opera that explores the railroad’s role in the concept of manifest destiny through the eyes of Chinese immigrants and displaced Native American tribes. George brings “Empire Builder” down many musical paths, from rock, pop and R&B to gospel and blues, even folk and country.
Some compositions require full immersion. His admiration for the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, for example, inspired a trip to Prague, where he walked the streets Rilke walked and visited the places Rilke did. That interaction with Rilke’s world helped him write “For the Sake of a Single Poem” a song cycle based on Rilke’s poems, which is now being developed for the stage and making its premiere in Cape Cod September 2012 at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.
He collaborated with lyricist Jim Payne to write “Stations of the Heart,” a song cycle based in the style of the Great American Songbook, created for vocalist Ann Michels and being developed for an eventual off-Broadway run.
“I take a theme and develop a number of songs over that subject matter,” George explains. “The Rilke poems deal with life, spirituality and hardships he went through. ‘Stations of the Heart’ is about the different stages of love, from first love to breakup.”
His arranging skills are also in demand, and he has put them to work arranging music for a diversity of high-profile projects including the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ stellar production of “Swing!” the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2011 “’80s Rewind!” show (sweet dreams are made of this) and, in summer 2010, four songs for the renowned Glacier Symphony’s concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Glacier National Park.
George’s composing talent has been called upon to produce scores for projects including the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company’s Ivy Award-winning “Woman Before a Glass,” creating original scores for two Saint Paul City Ballet performances and writing music for “My Dear Lewis,” a figure theater/puppetry show that made its New York City premiere in 2011 and has shown in Seattle, Amsterdam and Taiwan.
George never misses an opportunity to put some humor into his work. He composed original jazz slapstick for Kenny Ahern, a former Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey clown. Kenny has taken his own physical comedy show from Moscow to Hong Kong, and audiences across the globe have loved the musical accompaniment George wrote for the show.
Regardless of what George is writing or arranging – a movie or theater score or music for his own recording – he adapts to the demands of the project while subtly infusing each with his own artistic voice. “I look at it as developing the relationship between the music, the movement, the meaning and the words and showing off that compositional style.”
George has had his own recording label since 1986 and has been producer on an extensive list of live shows. Production is a big part of his profession.
George regularly produces music for artists he performs with and has also produced his own 15 solo piano CDs and six George Maurer Group and Trio CDs released on his label, Pine Curtain Productions, plus CDs for a variety of other artists.
“That’s one thing I love is to be in the studio and put an album together or arrange the overall view of what an artist wants to say on a project. And after you’ve done it for years, you know what to do. You know what feels right,” he says.
His 2009 CD “Songs From the Wayward Journey” features George as not only composer and performer but also as producer. The CD features more than 40 musicians, 12 different vocalists and 10 different song styles — and half of it is live.
He also helped produce the George Maurer Group’s 2011 live CD “Twisted” recorded at Minneapolis’s Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant. The same night the group was recording “Twisted,” George also helped Pioneer Public Television produce a live TV special on the George Maurer Group.
“After 25 years in the record business, it doesn’t get more exciting than this,” he said.
The crowds keep coming for the George Maurer Group’s annual holiday show at St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre, which George has been producing since 1998. It’s a different show every year, featuring everything from a seven-piece jazz band to a 21-piece big band and special guests such as Bobby Vee, Mary Jane Alm and the St. John’s Boys’ Choir.
He’s versatile enough to span the musical chasm between orchestra and country, smart enough to respect each project’s artistic integrity while lending his compositional voice, and experienced enough to pull it all off.
For George, it’s all about the details. “I love to go in and detail the nuances of a movie score or a stage production. I like to watch for every little movement of a dancer, every little inflection of a voice, every color and texture of a movie or the lighting of a theatrical stage. Good musical production is about grabbing the right texture, using the instrumentation that enhances the story.”