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David Weiss: Writin', Arrangin' and Playin'

By Published: December 22, 2008
"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."

Writing for the Octet

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."

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