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David Weiss: Writin', Arrangin' and Playin'

By Published: December 22, 2008
"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.

New York City

"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 different—again, unplanned—path.

"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.

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