David Weiss: Writin', Arrangin' and Playin'
"Then me and Craig (Handy) got in my 1972 Maverick and drove to New York. I'm from here, so I had a cheap place to live. That part wasn't so frightening for us. My second week, I ran into (trumpeter) Graham Haynes, who I knew a little bit. He set me up with a Jacki Byard big band gig. I got paid $7, or something like that. Then I met a trumpet player who was doing a lot of other gigs, so by my third week I was in a meringue band playing every weekend.
He also formed a band with Handy and assisted the saxophonist with music for the NBC series "The Cosby Mysteries," arranging the main theme for the show. Weiss began getting more calls for his arranging and transcribing skills. His work in that regard has appeared on over 80 CDs including those by Abbey Lincoln, Rodney Kendrick, Alto Legacy with Phil Woods, Vincent Herring, Antonio Hart, and a Rahsaan Roland Kirk tribute CD entitled Haunted Melodies, featuring Joe Lovano, Donald Harrison, James Spaulding and others.
He also began going to jam sessions at the Blue Note in New York, which eventually led him down a differentagain, unplannedpath.
"At that point, Philip Harper was doing the Blue Note (jam sessions). Then he got into the Jazz Messengers and Winard Harper started doing it. He would use me for it. Then they put the Harper Brothers band together, so they were gone and I was getting to do the gig myself a lot. Winard needed material for his group. Guys were writing stuff, but there were also tunes they wanted to play.
"They heard I could transcribe. I started transcribing tunes for him and his group. Then they told somebody and they told somebody, and all of a sudden I'm transcribing for everybody. Then the transcribing turned into: 'We have more horns, we have different horns, could you arrange it?' So I started arranging. Then I would have to go to the studio with the material. I got to know my way around a studio. Then it was: 'Can you produce it?'
"Then, when I send the guys at Fresh Sound the first octet CD to see if they would put it out, they were actually very enthusiastic. They wanted to put it out. Three of four conversations later, they noticed I had a lot of great young musicians in the group. They wanted to record them. So I started producing them. Then I started bring them Jeremy Pelt and Robert Glasper and Marcus Strickland and producing their first records for Fresh Sound. All of a sudden I was a producer.
"I had no idea when I got in that '72 Maverick there would be any of that."
So, his contacts came through transcribing and arraigning, more than playing. He says, "I was still playing trumpet and going and sitting in. But I might have been the fifth guy they'd call on trumpet, but the first guy they'd call on all this other shit."
He notes, "At some point, I have to kind of cease and desist and change my perception out here. I really just want to play trumpet. But, on the flip side, I've gotten on some projects and next to some people that I would have never gotten to if it was just trumpet. So maybe some of that's OK. I don't know how it happened. It just happened... But as a producer, I really wanted those guys to get their first records out. So I was glad to be put into a position to be able to do that. Nobody, in the octet got rich, obviously. But because of this other stuff I do, I'm able to get them record dates and get them on stuff, open some doors, or whatever. It had its purposes."
"If you told me the day I moved to New York I was going to be an arranger, producer, transcriber or whatever. Booking your own gigs sometimes. I would have looked at you like you were insane. Things just kind of happened out of necessity. Or the music dictates what needs to happen or where it needs to go. I've never had a plan."
The first time he ever wrote for five horns was the New Composers Octet debut. "I liked it. I remember talking about it with Dwayne (Burno), who had his own group and was trying to do stuff. I think he was the first guy to get signed out of all of us. He was working on his own record. They were all writing and I was talking to them about this expanded thing, saying we should check this out. I was working with Vincent Herring and Carl Allen. They had a production company. I worked for them, doing arranging and transcribing and coordination. Whatever they needed. This was at the height at the Young Lions thing. They were given money to produce a bunch of demos, because they wanted their own young lions. They through that to me and I produced all these demos. I heard great playing, but compositions are what struck me.
"Greg Tardy (an original Octet member) and Xavier Davis both did demos for that and the writing was great. That's when I started having the epiphany of: Let's do this. You guys start writing for it. We got together every week. We started trying out personnel. We settled on trombone pretty quickly. The drummer took about six months of different drummers before we landed on Nasheet. At that point it was more about seeing what the guys could do, waiting for the material and everybody experimenting and getting used to writing for that thing. Because none of them had written for an ensemble that large. They were all writing for their own groups, quartet and quintet.
"They took to it pretty quickly. It was a great time. Every week these guys would come in and we'd play and it was: Wow. At a certain point, I said maybe we should do a gig. I think our first gig was in Small's or something like that."
Weiss is contemplative when he looks his recording output, including that of the Octet. "Each record is different. It's a process when you start recording. You make your first record. It's the culmination of 20-something years of your life, everything you've written, everything you've done since you picked up your instrument. That goes into your first record. Then a year later you've got to make a second one," he says, laughing. "In one way, you kind of lose that fresh-faced exuberance. As that declines a little bit, everything you learned from making the first recordall the experience, all the stuff you learned about what works and what doesn'tgoes up. One goes up as the other declines. But you're feeling about every record changes.
He realizes listeners cannot be surprised all the time. Not each record can make big waves. But, "Sometimes there's a sense you crossed a big bridge. With the Octet, for me Walking the Line (Fresh Sound, 2002) was that record. That one, to me, was: Whoa! These guysDamn! It's hard to duplicate that... Most musicians who go through all that, they all have that one record. They've decided, like I did with The Mirror, (Fresh Sound, 2005) I really like this music. I don't know if I'll ever pull this kind of writing off again. Let's make sure this record comes out right.
The Mirror was Weiss' second solo disc. In making sure to get it right, he went over budget. "I went out-of-pocket, made sure we were in a good studio, that we had enough time, and made sure everything was the best it could be. That record was a culmination... Usually we play the music for a couple years before it's recorded. At this point, when everybody is ready and chomping at the bit and you know it's going to be everything it's supposed to be, you want to make sure it's captured that way."
The Turning Gate was actually recorded in 2005. "We've all been joking about that. Frankly, I hadn't listened to it for a year. It was sort of mastered, but I wanted to go back and re-master it. I hadn't listened to it for a year. That's kind of a good thing. Your perception of what's going on in the studio can kind of cloud how the record really is."
The result, he says is strong. It's creative jazz that doesn't pull from World Music or exotic influences.
"I'm not going there. I have no interest. It's all great and it's all wonderful. It's all music. Everything should be judged on its own merits. For whatever reason, this doesn't get that all the time. Which is fine," says Weiss in a light-hearted way. "I tried to explain that to Myron (Walden) one time. 'You're different. You're not going to be recognized in your time. Get used to it.'"