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Interviews

Mort Weiss: Sets Sail With Clarinet

By Published: December 18, 2006
So things are good these days for Weiss, whose music business is still thriving. He jokingly describes his days when not playing club dates: "I get up at the crack of noon now. I get home about 9:30, 10 o'clock (p.m.). Then I start practicing. You're got to practice. It's like an athletic thing. Especially the older you get, your lung capacity diminishes. ... I got into karate when I was in my 50s. I have a treadmill in the house, so I'm able to keep up. But if I miss two days it's like the setback of a week. So I practice 12:30, 12:45 (a.m.), and I have dinner about 1 o'clock. Then I hit the TV and lay there in a stupor. Infomercials. Thank god for the Turner Movie Classic channel. I fall asleep and get up about 4 o'clock (a.m.) and jump into bed. It's a complete change of life.

He hopes to be playing jazz festivals nationally and internationally in 2007, getting his name out there. He feels it's important for his legacy (and his ego, not that there's anything wrong with that) to be known and remembered for music he gave to people. He's very flattered when people interview him, and even when fans seek autographs he calls it "surreal.

"There's so much bullshit in this world. I was raised Orthodox Jewish, but I don't practice any religion. I believe there's a god and all that, but I don't believe any religion has the exact answer. But in the Talmud, ancient writings from very wise men, the mission of every Jew when they wake up is to cure the world. Well, that's analogous to "light one little candle. This playing gives me the satisfaction that I feel I'm lighting that candle.

He's proud of his accomplishments and happy to be part of mainstream jazz, though he admits his playing stretches more the more he goes at it.

"Nothing happened after 1958 (in jazz), he says. "Nothing new. It never got better after 1958 to '60. It just got different. Trane started another direction. I have all the respect in the worlds for Trane. He's wonderful, man. But it went in a different direction. With Ornette [Coleman], with Pharaoh Saunders and Archie Shepp. Although I am playing some things now, I'm stretching out a little bit and I'm getting some Eric Dolphy comparisons going, [chuckles] much to the dismay of Buddy DeFranco. He wrote me a very nice letter. He said, 'I can't hear all the notes.' The same with Terry Gibbs, I played some with him. He said, 'I hear all these notes, but I can't define it.'

"But that's what I sell, he quips.

"Nobody plays like me. By the way, the word "ego isn't necessarily a bad word. When you get to be my age, there's no time for bullshitting and screwing around, kidding yourself or kidding other people.

"The mere fact that we're having this conversation will help me to open the case tonight and practice for three hours. Because I'm very flattered anytime anyone wants to interview me for something. It's so surreal. I've been playing for five years. During my hiatus, I never stopped listening. I listened constantly. I started in with the big guys right away. One thing led to another and another and I got headlined at the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival in Portland, Ore. Sometimes I sit there and I go: 'What?'

Mort Weiss Weiss has also become a record producer, after a fashion, with his label SMS Jazz that has cranked out his own music and the works or others, like Gerry Gibbs and the Thrasher Band. "They're from Austin, Texas. Gerry has a club outside of Austin, in San Antonio. They've been together for three years. It is so tight. They all moved, en masse, to Los Angeles six months ago. The two CDs came out. I can't tell you what kind of music it is. It's fusion, a tad of rock, a tad of mainstream jazz. It's ass kicking. All of the guys play three or four or five instruments, the flute and reed players. It is so tight, man.

"I also have a singer named Melody. She's a vocal stylist. She's like a Peggy Lee, Chris Connors, June Christy type of thing. She's got a CD out called Nocturnal Velvet. A big production with a lot of heavyweight people in Los Angeles, Weiss says. "I never set out to do this. I just did an album thing to promote me. All of a sudden I'm an independent record label owner.

"The words from a raging lunatic, he humorously called his discussion with AAJ. "One of my proudest things is, I'm sitting here in my store. I was able, with my wife, of course, to make this business go. This is major thing. I guess as far as self esteem goes, I must have it. I look in the mirror and I say, 'Good god.'

"But that's another story, he adds with his wry humor and endearing demeanor.

Selected Discography

Mort Weiss, Mort Weiss Meets Sam Most (SMS Jazz, 2006)

Mort Weiss, B3 and Me (SMS Jazz, 2006)

Mort Weiss Quartet, The Four of Us: Live at Steamers (SMS Jazz, 2005)

Mort Weiss Trio, The Three of Us (SMS Jazz, 2004)

Mort Weiss Quartet, Mort Weiss Quartet (SMS Jazz, 2003)

Ron Escheté with Mort Weiss, No Place to Hide (SMS Jazz, 2002)

Photo Credit

Vince Outlaw


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