David Weiss: Writin', Arrangin' and Playin'
With Freddie Hubbard
On the Hubbard disk, Weiss, Burno and Steve Davis did the arrangements of titles familiar to fans like "Up Jumped Spring," and "Gibraltar." Lesser known, but strong tunes, like "Theme for Kareem," "Take It to the Ozone," and "Skydive," show not only the group's fine interplay, but excellent solos. Hubbard, once known for fast and furious trumpet work that has influenced legions of players ever since, no longer plays like he's on top of Mount Olympus. But he picks his spots with the flugelhorn and splashes in melodic runs of style and substance. Craig Handy guests on some cuts and Russell Malone plays a funky guitar line on the title cut.
"Freddie, obviously his chops are down. But he's always been a very melodic player," says Weiss. "It was good to get that group with Freddie because we'd been playing on and off for so long. That record captures the feeling of the group better than the first one (New Colors, Hip Bop, 2001)."
"Freddie's not 30 and can't blow the roof down anymore, but he was a great composer, is a great composer. This band has always been about the presentationFreddie bringing out this band of young guys playing his great music. Freddie doesn't get that pass, unfortunately. It's kind of a sad thing. He played so well. It makes everybody else realize their own mortality. When Superman can't be Superman anymore. They're human too. Nobody wants to give Freddie a break and let him play enough with this presentation to keep his chops up where he can be consistent. He still plays well, he just doesn't play like that anymore. He doesn't have the energy for it. Nobody would.
"Nobody's played as much as he has on trumpet. Nobody's played that long, that hard, that fast, that high. It's ridiculous what he did. He can't do it anymore. But, fortunately, through our collaboration, he can present a great show. He wrote all this great material that's now flushed out in bigger arrangements. He's got a great band behind it. The bonus is, when he's on a great night he'll shock everybody. When it's not so great a night, he'll still play some nice stuff and he has a great band behind him."
He adds, "He's still legend and he's found a way to get himself out there in a significant way, I think."
A lot of players get their reputations by first playing around the city, maybe getting a gig with an important jazz figure, then waiting for the word to get around. Not so with Weiss, a Queens native. He didn't plan it, but it turned out that writing and arranging is what mostly got his name into the important music circles.
Then again, growing up, Weiss didn't have a clue that he would end up as a musician.
"I grew up in Queens where everybody wore denim jackets or sweatshirts with Kiss and Aerosmith patches on them. I grew up listening to Kiss, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin. I was always passionate about music. It evolved. I got curious myself. The rock stuff begat more progressive rock. Gentle Giant and whatever. European rock bands that had influences beyond rock and roll. King Crimson. I actually went to art school for photography first. The European stuff got more out and out. Then I got into avant-garde jazz. Cecil Taylor got me because he played with so much intensity."
Weiss started playing piano as a youngster, but preferred sports and obeying the parental edict to practice his piano was a chore. He wanted out, and suggested drums. That didn't cut it with the folks. Electric bass was another option. The situation was eventually worked out.
"The problem with the story is, I don't know how trumpet came up. I know it wasn't my idea. So I guess it was them. I think how they sold me on it, was that I was an athlete. Trumpet's a wind instrument and it will help me to run faster. I remember after my first trumpet lesson I ran down the street seeing if it made me run faster," he says, chuckling. "I guess that's how they sold me on it. I don't remember that pivotal moment of how trumpet got into the equation."
Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis were his first influences.
Weiss was taking lessons and playing in school bands, but not hearing jazz. His friends were listening to the electric rock of the day and he bought a synthesizer to play in rock bands in high school. "I'd bring the trumpet with me, just in case. But there was nothing to do with it."
"In my last year of high school, I started hanging out with some guys who actually turned out to be something. Like this guy, Michael Beinhorn, who has played keyboards with Bill Laswell. They were putting a band together and I played with them a little bit before I went to college. I think I played a little trumpet. I would bring it, and if there was something to do, I would play it. Then I went to art school for photography. I finally heard stuff that applied to trumpet and started playing trumpet again.
During his time in art school, he played in free jazz trio. "They had an electronic music studio and I was doing stuff like recording trumpet and making tape loops and experimenting with stuff. Then I came back to New York. I took a summer workshop at the Creative Music Studio. John Zorn was there. Frank Lowe. Leo Smith and George Lewis. All these avant-garde guys were coming through there. It was a lot of fun. Jimmy Guiffre lived up there. He would come by. He said I had some interesting ideas, but it's not a bad idea to listen to more harmony-based stuff too, so you have some more to draw on. He was so nice about it.
"There was a trumpet player there who played like Don Cherry. He really had his shit together. He was an out, experimental guy, but he went to North Texas State first, for a year. He never bothered to tell me there's nobody else like him there. [laughs] So I applied to North Texas State and went down there. It was all about big bands, but by that time, I was like, 'Fuck it. I'm here. It's music. Let me just stay here and make the best of it.'"
Weiss was now listening to a lot of jazz. "That's the jazz that was around. I bought this book "28 Modern Jazz Trumpet Solos" and I bought the records that the solos came from. That's where I heard a lot. A lot of this stuff over the years I did on my own. I didn't have much guidance along the way. The first Freddie Hubbard record I bought, I bought because he was in this "28 Modern Jazz Trumpet Solos" book. I remember putting it on and opening the book to the page, ready to play along with it. [chuckles] I couldn't play a note it was so fast and so intense. So I started working on that stuff.
At North Texas State, where he knew saxophonist Craig Handy, he was in a band learning, transcribing and playing stuff like Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson. They gigged at a Fort Worth, Texas, club during the week.