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Mort Weiss: Sets Sail With Clarinet

By Published: December 18, 2006
Weiss took a job in a large chain of retail music stores, Willach's Music City, whose owner Glenn Wallich started Capitol Records. He worked as a clerk for fourteen years until it went out of business. Then Weiss opened his own store, the Sheet Music Shoppe. He eventually owned a group of stores, but has sold them off and now runs one shop, very well known, near South Coast Plaza. "We carry all the accessories for instruments and things of that nature. But print is so hard to get. It's not a sexy thing. It's a lot of librarian work. So I have teachers coming in. I have people from all over the world coming in. Not specifically to come to me. They are on business trips four or five times a year from Europe or someplace. I'm always on their itinerary, because I have things nobody else has. One of the biggest and most extensive collections of jazz. They didn't have these things in my day. Fats Navarro transcriptions, Buddy DeFranco, Stan Getz—note for note. It's amazing. That's what I do. That's what I was doing for the better part of those forty years that I didn't play.

Weiss was married during that time (He's been with Jean for thirty-two years). He's unruffled now by the hard times, and rightly so. "The reason I talk so freely about is I pulled myself out of this whole thing by myself. There was no going around and having counseling and everything. In fact there wasn't that much open to you in those days. I paid a lot of dues and I learned a lot of lessons.

But in the new millennium, Fate tossed a slow-pitch softball down the center of Weiss' plate.

"I received some junk mail from Irvine Valley College. They were starting a jazz ensemble and they were holding auditions. I still hadn't played all these years. My wife was in Italy visiting. I got the horn out, man, Weiss says, excitedly as he recounts the tale. "For fourteen days I couldn't play more than two minutes. Your embouchure, the muscles around your mouth, you just can't do it [after such a layoff]. I worked hard on it. And this teacher was so encouraging. He said, 'Wow!' That kicked me in the ol' butt and I just started practicing again. I had customers like Luther Hughes and Ron Escheté coming in. And I said let's get together a couple nights and see what's happening. One thing led to another, to another. Ron knows Joey DeFrancesco, because he plays with him periodically, he sent No Place to Hide, my first CD, a duet with Ron, to Joey.

"I get a call one day. I said, 'Hi.... Is this Joey?'


'This is Joey DeFrancesco?'

The organist had heard a recording and wanted to play with Weiss. ("He plays his ass off, DeFrancesco would later say.) "I'm thinking: Who me? And I started doing a Ralph Kramden—hummana hummana hummana...[laughs] We set up some time. He lives in Arizona in a place called Cave Creek. We got together and we put out the first CD.

But DeFrancesco was under contract to Concord at the time, and the large label gave Weiss a very difficult time, says the clarinetist, but he continued to fight and eventually released it without the organist's name mentioned in the title, The Mort Weiss Quartet. "That was my second CD. I had only been playing not quite two years when we did that. I play better now than then, but there was some excitement that got going that night.

The same with The B3 and Me, which was recorded in 2003 but not released until earlier this year. At the time, Concord was releasing DeFrancesco's Falling In Love Again, with singer Joe Doggs, aka actor Joe Pesci. "Joey and I were too much like musicians. We forgot it was the music business. I kind of followed Joey's lead. He's played with many people on numerous records. The shit hit the fan when Concord found out, says Weiss.

"Joey's name is not on it. It says: "Featuring a very special guest: The finest jazz organist in the world, Concord Recording Artist ... You guessed it. It's Him on Hammond B3, says Weiss, and after a long legal wrestling match, and at large expense to the clarinetist, the album was released. He says it's getting outstanding air play on jazz radio as more and more people find out about it. "I signed a contract they put out, which said as long as I didn't mention his name... I followed the edict of their contract to the period and each comma. They left out one very important thing. It's called innuendo, and I used that to the utmost.

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