2012-05-25 / People

South Portland musician is immersed in community

By Jack Flagler Staff Writer

Rob Schreiber Rob Schreiber At first glance, the worlds of jazz and politics would seem to have nothing to do with each other.

Jazz is Louie Armstrong singing in his sandpaper voice and flashing his Cheshire cat grin while beads of sweat gather on his brow. Jazz is Billie Holiday’s distinctively smoky and fragile voice, or Thelonious Monk’s frenzied improvisational piano solos, all brought to life through grainy footage or a scratchy recording.

It’s hard to see the comparison to the paperwork-filled world of politics, where every moment of committee meetings and filibusters are brought to view in painstaking detail by C-SPAN’s cameras.

But Rob Schreiber, chairman of the South Portland Planning Board and drummer in the jazz group Rob Schreiber’s Standard Issue, says jazz and politics, his two passions, have more similarities than most would think.

“You can improvise, but it’s all about how the ensemble sounds,” Schreiber said. “We’re all interacting, we’re all creating. But if someone decides ‘I’m the peacock’ and doesn’t want to listen to what we’re doing, it’s not going to sound good. You don’t get the best product.”

On June 19, Schreiber will perform from 6 to 6:30 p.m. with Standard Issue at the South Portland Community Center at a public forum hosted by the South Portland Comprehensive Planning Committee (of which he is also a member). The forum, he said, will allow the public to express opinions of the comprehensive plan. Based on his experience playing at similar public forums, Schreiber hopes the music will set a calm tone for a discussion that can sometimes get testy with many different voices and opinions in the room. The forum will be the last chance for the public to weigh in on their vision for the future of the South Portland community.

“What I love about South Portland is, people are really passionate about what they want the city to be like,” Schreiber said. “So you throw all those different opinions in the same room, and it’s just nice to have some music, take a deep breath … then come 6:30 we get to work. It’s really been amazing, the energy of the forums.”

Schreiber and his wife, Susan Stewart, have lived in South Portland since 2001, and Schreiber has participated in local politics on some level for more than seven years. He said the ability each citizen has to contribute to political discussion in Maine is rare.

In Maine, the doors are completely open, people can participate at all levels,” he said. “People aren’t looking at your resume or looking at your lineage. If you have energy and passion about something, people appreciate it.”

That was not the case, Schreiber said, in Baltimore, Md., where he and Stewart lived until they moved to Maine in 1997. If a citizen had an issue to bring up in the city, he or she may get a response like ‘I don’t even see you on my donor list,’” Schreiber joked.

When Schreiber and Stewart got to Maine 15 years ago (they eventually made it after getting stuck on the east coast for four days in a nor’easter), he said the city’s music scene wasn’t close to resembling what it is today.

“There was nothing going on (musically), at least from an outsider’s perspective,” he said.

This came as a disappointment to someone who had played drums for 20 years, and who had loved jazz since listening to his mother’s Duke Ellington records she played when he was a child growing up in DeKalb, Ill. But Schreiber was encouraged when he visited a local music store.

“I went into Bull Moose and they had an incredible jazz selection,” he said. “So I was like OK, someone is listening to this stuff.”

Schreiber said Portland’s music scene today has expanded from a seasonal attraction to year-round, and his band is now working on its second live recording. The first was recorded on April 4 at Ginko Blue in Portland, with Schreiber on drums, Nick Merriam on bass, Emmett Harrity on piano and vocalist Colleen Clark joining the band on one track. Schreiber said Clark’s appearance was a spurof the-moment event that “just clicked” for the band.

“I e-mailed Colleen the day of (the recording) and said, ‘We’re playing tonight if you want to come in.’ I mean, jazz is spontaneous but that was just nuts,” he said.

“I didn’t know some of those guys had gone to high school in the same system around the Bangor area. They all knew each other,” he added. “I was the only one they kind of had to get fully used to. We listened to the recording the day after and it was obvious Colleen was going to be a good fit.”

This time around, Clark will join the band for half of the tracks, the other half of which are instrumentals. The band’s next recording will take place 6 to 9 p.m. June 6 at Ginko Blue. The show will be for those 21 and older.

Later this summer, the group will play at Bug Light Park for Fourth of July South Portland, hosted by the South Portland Historical Society. Standard Issue will play from 11 a.m. to noon. and release its debut CD for $5; $1 of each sale will benefit the South Portland Music Boosters, a not-for-profit organization that promotes music in grades four through 12.

Staff writer Jack Flagler can be reached at 282- 4337, ext. 219

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