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Dan Weiss: The Creative Absence of Egotism

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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The first time drummer/composer Dan Weiss is heard, there can be a perception of something inherently wrong with the music. It slowly creeps up—like a chill on a cool morning, just as the sun is rising over a misty ridge. Waves of lush pastel colors pass over and around in impassioned washes of rhythm and elements of time. The slow intensity of his cymbal work is similar to tones on a keyboard connecting with all aspects of a quiet and beautiful wilderness in sync with human existence.

But perhaps the most stunning character is hearing the absence of ego within the spirit of the music. Isn't this the common and predominant quality among those who strike these tightened skins? The creative blossoming essential of the spirit of this amazing and exquisite sound becomes immediately alluring and compelling.

All About Jazz: At what point did you know that music was going to have a permanent impact on your life?

Dan Weiss: My father was a guitarist so I was exposed to music pretty early on. The first band that had an influence and impact on me was Led Zeppelin and the first drummer was John Bonham. So bands like Zeppelin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Cream were my roots very early on.

When I heard Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic, 1971), I knew I was going to be a drummer. From there, I really got into progressive rock and became a Rush fanatic. There was also Yes and I still love all that stuff. I also got into metal bands like Metallica, Slayer and Pantera, and so for the first 14 years it was rock and then my drum instructor, Jeff Krause played a Max Roach and Clifford Brown record, and then a Count Basie record. Those two records turned my mind around. Jeff was a very hip teacher and he turned me on to so much music.

AAJ: Some of the early great rock bands had a particular honesty, commitment and passion that can be found in all great music of any genre. It wasn't just an attitude of wanting to make records and be famous. There were significant statements being made.

DW: I agree—and there are still a lot of great rock bands that I listen to. There are so many great, great bands out there and a lot of great music being made today.

AAJ: It's nice to hear that you still listen across the entire music spectrum.

DW: I try to listen to everything and I just picked up an Ice Cube record yesterday.

AAJ: On your website, you mention that your favorite book is by the much respected artist from India, Hazrat Inyat Khan (1882-1927). When did you first get your interest in Indian music?

DW: I started listening to it in my teens and began studying the rhythms from both northern and southern India. I also began studying the frame drum with Jamey Haddad, who also got me in touch with my present-day guru, Pandit Samir Chatterjee. And that has thus far been a 12-year relationship. He has illuminated the spiritual path in music, which I really hadn't tapped into before.

AAJ: There are different perceptions about exactly what spirituality is in music. When did you know exactly what that was for you?

DW: I was investigating different aspects of music when I was fairly young. There was a book that had many meditation exercises that I did while listening to specific pieces of classical music and I remember being pretty blown away by it. I was only in high school at the time but I have always had spiritual roots. It was spending time and studying the tabla with my teacher and that process has been handed down as a form of disciplined practice and how it can transform music. It didn't really hit me for a few years but gradually, as my relationship with my teacher grew deeper, I began to see what it was all about. It's very powerful. There are several aspects but the daily practicing of the instrument is spiritual in and of itself.

Importantly, this can also be used as a metaphor for other parts of life, such as being really present with sound when you are practicing so it is kind of like a blueprint for me.

AAJ: Listeners to your music won't necessarily hear someone that is all about chops, though you obviously have them. Is it more about being inside the sound for you, in a spiritual sense rather than about the sound that one hears on the surface?

DW: It all depends on the specific moment or setting that I am playing within. It's the moment that can and will dictate my approach. The setting, the musicians, the venue, the audience—it's all those things. It's never going to be premeditative since I am always going to allow myself the options to be open.

AAJ: Was there a particular time when you tried to implement more spiritual aspects into your music?

DW: I think it's been more of a gradual gravitation towards it. As far as composition, I have always experimented with different rhythmic repertoires and what I can do with it melodically. However, I was very influenced by guys like John Cage, Charles Ives and Morton Feldman. I knew that Cage was very interested in Eastern culture and a good portion of his music is based upon that, so I became interested. Feldman's music reminded me of meditation because for me, it's about the present sound at that very moment. But these are some of the composers that influenced my compositions, which are pretty long and not like your typical conventional stuff.


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