The Schwartz Factor: Yo-Yo Ma

The classical music phenom is searching for a new collaborator, and is even willing—God help him—to give Jason Schwartz a try.

yo yo ma

Photograph by Michael O’Neill

Yo, Yo-Yo! How are you doing? I am very well.

I’m sorry, people must misuse your name all the time. Sure. One time I’m sitting in an airplane, and a big guy sits down next to me. He looks at my cello and says, “Is this yours?” “Yeah.” “You play it professionally?” “Yeah.” “So you good?” I say, “My mother thinks so.” And then he says, “Are you as good as Yo-Yo Ma?” I said, “Well, I don’t know, but I am Yo-Yo Ma.” He says, “That’s not true. I know who Yo-Yo Ma is. Yo-Yo Ma is a woman.”

That would be Yo-Yo Mama. Exactly.

So your new album is also your 113th—according to Wikipedia, at least. I’ll give you $20 if you can remember the name of, oh, number 34. Is that true? I’m not that old. I have no idea what number 34 is.

It’s Brahms: The Piano Quartets, from 1990. Oh, that’s great! Those are with Isaac Stern and Manny [Ax] and Jamie Laredo. How wonderful is it that you get people from almost different eras, really wanting to make music together.

Speaking of, you’re running a contest right now, and the winner gets to record with you. Isn’t that a little like “winning” a one-on-one game against Kevin Garnett? Heyyy, listen. What I think is great about music, whether it’s live or recorded, is the participatory aspect of it. I wanted to get that sense into the recording, and I thought maybe this could be something fun for people to explore. We’re putting a number of tracks on the Web, so people can fool around with it.

James Taylor sings with you on your new album. It seems that for every big sporting event here, either he or Steven Tyler does the national anthem. You never have. Why aren’t you rocking Fenway with the cello? All right, you come sing it with me. Jason and Yo-Yo.

I might ruin you by association. No, no, no. We’ll do the opening of “Dona Nobis Pacem” going into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” How’s that?

People won’t know what hit ’em.