Backstage at a concert I was doing a few years back, I heard the house announcer getting ready to bring me on, doing his thing. As I'm checking to see if my fly was zipped I heard the words (not in any particular order): jazz, clarinet, septuagenarian and Mort Weiss. I remember thinkingwhat the f**k?
OK, I was asked to write something about a now-well-known little break I took from the scene for 40 years, and that upon returning in 2001 led Scott Yanow, critic, reviewer and internationally acclaimed writer and jazz historian to proclaim that "Mort Weiss' return to the jazz scene is one of the happier events in the jazz world in the 21st century."
When I'd made the decision to start playing again, I began a very intensive work ethic toward practicing and physical exercise which continues to this day, only more so and more intense. I started going out to clubs in LA and Hollywood where I knew the cats that were playing and sat in with them. It started to feel good againhaving said that, let me back up a sentence or two. The very first time that I got up on the stand I was scared shitless. My freakin' hands were shaking. You see, it was also the very first time that I played without taking a hit or two from a jug, and a cigarette to go with it. I had put all that down many many years before, but those of you who know what I'm sayingknow what I'm saying, DIG?
What I remember most about that first timethe audience! I can remember it today as if it happened last night. As the first tune was counted off during the eight- bar intro, I, for the first time, looked out into the house and saw this sea of white hair throughout. What are all of these old people doing here??? I've been called the Rip Van Winkle of jazz, times two. When I quit- -yes, quit, not stoppedback in 1965, we were the young lions, the young bloods, the cutting edge. The audiences at least tried to look and dress the part: the chicks, the hipsters, the heads. The whole freakin' atmosphere resonated with HIP! Man, you talk about reality checks!
So here I'm coming up on my 79th birthday in April of this year and if I felt any better, I couldn't stand it. It turned out, my wife couldn't stand it eitherOur divorce (after 40 years of marriage) is over- seems as though I couldn't satisfy her sexual appetites any more,those being, she wanted to be left alone- ahhhhhyeh. Strange how Vernon Duke's song "Autumn in New York" always comes to mind as I think and feel moments of deep emotionbut, it does.
New York City, wow! "The Apple," the destination of dreams and the boulevards paved with many broken ones. New York and San Francisco. Two cities that can turn your head every which way but loose. "Autumn in New York" started going around in my head since I first heard it a good many years ago as a young man who had all those dreams, and who knew (even then) that many were to be broken. But yet----- I'd been to New York City a few times way back in my day. Once with my parents in 1943, then again in 1950 when I was doing the Paul Whiteman show, and I was at Times Square on New Year's Eve, and once again in 1955 leaving the Brooklyn naval yards on a troop- ship as a soldier in the US Army, off to Germany. Oh yeah! And before that final curtain falls, all I can say is "Autumn in New York, it's good to live it a-gain." Be Kind to one another and live in the moment, for that's all there really is, isn't there?
The world of jazz is a musical space with a complex history and haunting appeal--a space to revisit and celebrate. It’s that
amazing moment when you hear a really great song you haven't heard in years and you still know the tune and every word.