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Walt Weiskopf: All About the Sound

Bob Kenselaar By

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A standout studio recording deeper back into Weiskopf's catalog is Man of Many Colors (Criss Cross, 2002), featuring pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Clarence Penn. The group came together partly through another visit that Weiskopf made to Europe, playing at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague. He shared the stage there with Mehldau, somewhat serendipitously. The festival organizers gave Weiskopf his time slot, gave him a list of other musicians on the bill, and left it to him to find a quartet to play together. "Brad was going to be there, and I had been working with Rick Hollander, a terrific drummer from Detroit who was living in Munich, so it wasn't too much trouble for him to come. And [bassist] James Genus was there also." Criss Cross Records producer Gerry Teekens was very impressed with the resulting concert and set about putting a studio recording together featuring the saxophonist and pianist. "Of course, Brad is in a league of his own. So, I said, 'Sure. You want to try and engage Brad, be my guest, absolutely.' And so he did. John Patitucci had just moved to New York, and so he was around, and Clarence was available. I thought to myself, 'Enjoy this while it lasts, because these guys are on a rocket ship to fame in the jazz world.' And they were. It was great, great experience."

Of his other recordings, Weiskopf is hard pressed to single others out. "I always say it's kind of like your children. It's hard to have a favorite." He is especially grateful to Criss Cross producer Gerry Teekens to give him the opportunity to record leading larger ensembles, including two nonets (Siren [2000], Song for My Mother [1997]), one octet (Day In, Night Out [2008]) and two sextets (Simplicity [1992], Sleepless Nights [1998]). Over the course of conversation, talking about his musical influences, Weiskopf mentions another recording, one that's actually outside of his own output: Renee Rosnes's For the Moment (Blue Note), winner of Canada's Juno Award for Best Jazz Album in 1992. Weiskopft doesn't perform on the recording, but it features his composition "Thinking to Myself," with the lead voice played by the great saxophonist and composer Joe Henderson, whom Weiskopf counts an important influence, especially in his compositions.

In the Vanguard and Steely Dan

Steely Dan: Everything Must Go Weiskopf's long association with the iconic pop group Steely Dan and its leaders, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, started out with the band's last recording, Everything Must Go, (Reprise, 2003). "I ended up on some horn section dates, and I think they might have been curious about me. For the title tune, they conceived of it as having—for a lack of a better description—a Coltrane-ish sax introduction. So we recorded that, I guess, in the fall of 2002. It never occurred to me that I would tour with them. That was kind of outside my whole arena of experience. I had never done anything like that before. Then in 2003, I got a phone call, in maybe January or February about the coming summer. Since then, I've done—it might be ten tours. It's been great. I also was lucky enough to work with Donald on another project called the Dukes of September. We did a terrific concert for Great Performances, the PBS series, with the Dukes." In addition to Fagen, the group included Michael MacDonald and Boz Scaggs, and the Great Performances concert was also released as a DVD (429 Records, 2014).

"I've learned a ton. I can't even tell you. It's nice that at the age of 43 I could start really as a kind of a nascent, blank slate with that kind of thing. I really didn't know much about how to do it, how to play a solo in that context. It's a unique pop band, in that they love jazz. They came up as jazz fans and jazz musicians. And to have four jazz horn players—might be the only band that ever had that. And in soloing with them, they've never said, 'do this, that or the other.' They let everyone find their way. It's like a big band in many ways, but, of course, in a pop setting. I consider it a huge opportunity and a great challenge. I can't say enough about it."

In addition to Everything Must Go, Weiskopf also recorded with Fagen on his 2012 recording, Sunken Condos (Reprise). The saxophonist is struck by the contrast of making these albums and his experience with jazz recordings. "It's entirely different. The way they grew up making records, they have the luxury of a lot of time. When we did the improvised solo on 'Everything Must Go,' I must have done 50 different takes, no exaggeration, over the course of two days. And from that they took what they wanted. Jazz musicians will put an entire album together in six hours. On a rare exception, they might have two days in a studio."

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