David Bowie calling
Maria Schneider, the Windom-born, New York-based jazz composer/conductor/arranger, was "blown away" when she realized David Bowie was in the audience at the Jazz Standard, a New York club, to see the Maria Schneider Orchestra. When an unassuming Bowie came calling to Schneider's apartment to write a song two years later, the doorman had no idea who the visitor was. A nervous Schneider found herself at ease after they got to work on the project. "I'm always working from a place of fear. I'm always writing scared," she confided to I.W. "David had such a fearless and playful attitude about music. He said, 'If the plane goes down, everyone is walking away.' " Their collaboration, "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)," the lone new track on his 2014 compilation "Nothing Has Changed," has earned Schneider a Grammy nomination for best arrangement for instruments and vocals. She'll be in L.A. for the Grammys on Feb. 15. By the way, Schneider has won three Grammys, the late Bowie collected only one — for best video, short form, for "Jazzin' for Blue Jean" — as well as a lifetime achievement honor.
What about Bob?
Bob Elliott may be known to a younger generation as the father of "Letterman" regular Chris Elliott and grandfather to comic Abby Elliott, but to fans of classic comedy he was half of the legendary duo Bob and Ray. To Garrison Keillor, he was also an employee. During his self-imposed exile from "Prairie Home Companion," he launched "American Radio on the Air," using Elliott as a regular during the New York-flavored show's 1989-92 run. "Bob was a radio guy — he could read anything cold, no rehearsal, no re-takes," Keillor e-mailed after Elliott died Wednesday at 92. "He owned a particular character, an earnest nobody who is wary but game, and all you had to do was put him up against a blowhard, or put him on a horse, or a cliff, or make him a bank robber, or an intrepid journalist, and it was funny. Bob was living proof that comedy is the ordinary fabric of things when seen up close. Tragedy is in the distance. Comedy is in your lap."
In the new book "Michael Jackson FAQ," author Kit O'Toole tells some back stories about the King of Pop's relationship with Minnesota royalty, namely Prince and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Apparently, the song "Bad" was originally titled "Pee," and Jackson wanted it to be a duet with Prince. After the Minnesotan declined, Jacko transformed the song into a one-man manifesto about his critics. When Jam & Lewis wrote "Scream," it was for Janet Jackson and the song "Runaway" was intended to be a Michael/Janet duet. But Jacko demanded "Scream" so it became the sibling duet. And "MJ FAQ" discloses that Jackson sang backup vocals on Mariah Carey's "Satisfy," a 2002 Jam & Lewis creation, but the song intended for her "Charmbracelet" album was never released.
Seeking a new leader
Leah Cooper, the founding executive director of the Minnesota Theater Alliance, will step down April 30. An umbrella group started to help with the development of the state's playhouses and theater companies, the alliance has a $100,000 annual budget and three-person staff to help 460 theaters. The organization is launching a statewide theater conference July 9-11 at St. John's University. A one-time leader of the Minnesota Fringe Festival and former software engineer, Cooper will work as a freelance director and consultant. A search is on for her successor.
Dancing with the stars
Duluth singer-songwriter Rachael Kilgour won the 2015 NewSong contest last month in New York; her prizes included a performance at the Sundance Film Festival last week (on a stage where Freedy Johnston and Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum performed) plus an upcoming recording session for an EP in North Carolina and a future concert at Lincoln Center in New York. It's the second NewSong competition she's won in the past year, and she was also a finalist in the Telluride Troubadour competition last year. The contests are a good way "to jump start my music career," said Kilgour, who is about to drop her third album. At Sundance, she saw four movies, spotted Colin Farrell and Jason Ritter walking around and heard Sting was there the day before. Will she invite Sting to her yet-to-be-finalized Lincoln Center show? "Definitely," she joked. "Hopefully, he'll answer."
Yes, he's local
He performed on both the Billboard and Brit award shows with Kanye West and played Rock the Garden with the Stand4rd last year, plus he could take home a Grammy or two on Feb. 15 for his guest verses on Ye's "All Day." Somehow, though, Allan Kingdom has gone a full year without performing at First Avenue. The St. Paul rapper — who surprised fans last month with his new mixtape "Northern Lights" — will return to the club as headliner of the Are You Local? showcase on March 11. He will be joined by three more acts to be named, including the winner of the battle of the bands at 7th Street Entry on Feb. 20. Online voting for the contest ended Thursday, and the four finalists will be announced over the weekend.