David Weiss: Writin', Arrangin' and Playin'
The Point of Departure group, which hasn't released its music yet, has been playing gigs in New York. On the live disk-to-be is J.D. Allen on sax, Nir Felder on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass a d Jamire Williams on drums. They cover tunes like "Paraphernalia" from Miles in the Sky (Columbia, 1968) and the feel of the band is definitely different. Weiss' trumpet playing is more featured and he's not confined by a specific arrangement.
"It's absolutely the polar opposite of everything I've done in that way. I don't want to say I had a stick up my ass for 10 years," he says with amusement. "It's just a different conception. This is more about my playing. Some of the band leading things come through. There's a certain tightness to certain things that I can't let by. But I definitely had to let go of a few things during that recording. A lot of the other records were as much about the compositions or arranging as the soloing. The compositions were the emphasis. The soloing was great too, but it was about the writing. I did those records because I wrote stuff. There was a strong conception of what I thought things should be and where they should go. The rhythm section is still really loose."
He also is learning from the outstanding musicians with whom he plays. "Charles Tolliver is as regimented as anybody, but there's still a looseness to it. Certain things he'll never let go by, certain ensemble things or certain drum things. If it's not there, he won't use the take, or he'll think it's terrible. But he'll also do shit on the fly with us. He was always keeping you on your toes. If you screw up theresomething out of tune or a note is a little crackedbut you're going for something in that moment, that doesn't matter to him.
"Playing with Billy Harper and those guys, (The Cookers) they are the most serious musicians in the world. I'm not saying they're accepting mistakes, but there are certain things where they feel the vibe is more important. What I'm going for is more important than whether it was perfectly executed or perfectly in tune. I took those kind of lessons to heart with that quintet."
With Point of Departure, "The vibe of this thing is definitely to go for the jugular, all out, all the time. With jazz in general, if you're not going for something all the time, or not afraid to go for something and miss, then you're taking something away from the music. Those guys just go for it."
Taking chances, says Weiss, is a necessary part of the music and its heritage. "You can't get to a higher place than you've been without trying all the time. You can't really change the world if you're happy and content. You have to be pissed off enough to try to do something about it. You have to go for it. If something special is going to happen with the music, you have to try something and you're going to miss (on occasion). Miles did that. He was an amazing trumpet player, but he went for something. He had a band that reacted to him and some nights it was the most special thing you ever heard in your life. But not every night.
"I've been playing with these 1970s guys, Billy Harper and Eddie Henderson and Billy Hart. They're always going for it. Really going for it. Sometimes I walk off that stageall those guys are about 25 years older than meand I'm the one that feels old. They're used to playing with that kind of energy and passion always. They never backed off. I talk to Freddie (Hubbard) about this musical life. We talk about the difference between then and now. Harmonic swing-based music. Freddie says, 'We were always trying things. Every time we played a tune, we tried something different.' Even with Art Blakey, which is a pretty regimented thing, they were always experimenting. They never approached something the same way every day or settled fort anything."
Weiss said some players coming out of college learn from records and listen to the greats, and have the technique. But they have to go further. Investigate more. "They hear Freddie Hubbard or John Coltrane play this scale over this chord and they go, 'OK. When you hear this chord, you're supposed to play this scale.' They're creating rules that they're not deviating from... But the next step is, 'OK, I got that. Now how do I fuck with it? How do I make it my own.' I don't know if that's happening as much. But those are the guys I'm looking for" to work with.
The Point of Departure group seems to do that on the bandstand, judging by the as-yet-released recording. And Weiss isn't worrying so much about writing.
"It's all other people's music. We made it our own. But a lot of that material is drawn from this obscure band, Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet. He did two Blue Note recordings in the late 60s that have finally come out on CD. They were based in Detroit.
"It was very clear that most people in that era listened to the Miles Davis Quintet with Herbie (Hancock), Ron (Carter) and Tony (Williams). When that band was out there, any forward-thinking musician got their cues from that group, or their start from that group, or their approach to music. That group not only changed things for life, but changed things at the moment.
"The two records those guys (Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet)... they were the first to do what many have done since, including Wynton Marsalis' first band. They heard the flexibility of Herbie, Ron and Tonyall the time changes and tempo changes and key changes and all the stuff, the elastic rhythm section stuff they didand instead of just playing 'Autumn Leaves' and doing that, ...Those guys said: 'Let me write something that forces the rhythm section to do that.' Kenny Cox and those guys wrote some amazing materialstuff that Herbie, Ron and Tony might do in their sleep at any given momentthey wrote into the form of the tune. It was part of the composition. Time changes and key changes, that kind of stuff. As a result, the material was very opened-ended. It could go anywhere."
With this group and this music, says Weiss, "Anywhere there are cue sections, they go somewhere completely different every night. It's whatever the rhythm section dreams up. They come up with a groove, or they come up with swing. Each player plays a line and the rhythm section reacts. It just goes wherever it goes. If I don't like where it goes, it's another cue and you can get out of it. But basically, it's giving the guys carte blanch. They have to think of things all the time. It's on them. I play cues to go to another section... there are a few they fall back on. I don't say they never do that. But, it's that kind of thing: Play something and we'll all go with you."
Weiss also finds the quintet is easier to get into clubs, and less expensive to tour with.
"Even if the Octet CD sells a million copies, I'm still not touring the world with it. That's not what motivates me. Those are after-the-fact acknowledgments. Whatever I do musically, I do. Then when it's done, I have to look at the world I'm trying to put this into, then I have an epiphany. But it never effects how I approach the music. But it's clear to me now after a number of years that that's not going to be a viable touring thing.
"But the quintet will be. I like to travel. I like to play as much as possible... it's what we do and we're passionate about it. But more so, all we're trying to play more. Where we're trying to get to only happens if we play enough... Whatever light bulb is going to go off, whatever epiphany, or whatever magic is going to happen only happens if you play enough. Whatever we have to do, make sure we do that."
As his playing grows stronger, Weiss wants to keep it that way. So arranger and producer hats may be set aside a bit more often.
"I do like playing trumpet. I do like how strong I've been (playing). I can look in the mirror and say, since I made the decision (to play more), I'm a much better player. I always thought I was OK. Sometimes, it seemed like part time. Trumpet is a very physical thing. I'd do some great gigs and think I'm at the peak of my powers. Everything is working well, and then I'd get an arranging project and not touch the horn for two weeks. ...It's like going to the gym and getting in great shape and then sitting home eating doughnuts for two weeks and not moving off the couch, then get up and expect to do what you did two weeks ago.
"Every time I'd get back up there, I'd say I'm never going to let it happen again. I'm never going to take these writing assignments and let my stuff fall off. Obviously, it's all recoverable, but it still should be this shooting-upward thing. No valley."
The writing and arranging will, of course, go on. But for fans of good trumpet, there appears to be much more coming from this man with the horn.
Freddie Hubbard and The New Jazz Composers Octet, On The Real Side (Times Square Records, 2008)
The New Jazz Composers Octet,
Charles Tolliver Big Band, With Love , (Blue Note Records, 2006)
David Weiss, Breathing Room, (Fresh Sound/New Talent, 2001)
The New Jazz Composers Octet, Walkin' the Line,(Fresh Sound/New Talent, 2002)
Freddie Hubbard and The New Jazz Composers Octet, New Colors (Hip Bop, 2001)
The New Jazz Composers Octet, First Steps into Reality, (Fresh Sound/New Talent, 1999)
Tom Harrell Big Band, Time's Mirror, (BMG, 1999)
Bop City, Hip Strut, (Hip Bop Records, 1996)