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Walt Weiskopf: All About the Sound

Bob Kenselaar By

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"For Around the Horn, again, I heard somebody say something that rang a bell for me. A friend was talking about modulating each mode of the scale, and it made me remember being at a jam session a long time ago, when I first moved to New York, looking at a chart and seeing a major seven—sharp five chord and realizing I really didn't know what that was. And I was embarrassed to ask anybody. Years later, I understood finally, that's the third mode of the melodic minor scale. A lot of times when you teach things, it keeps you honest. You really have to understand them in a way that you hadn't previously understood them, or that you just blew off or glossed over. I began writing things down, taking them to the nth degree. So that, again, is just what I was practicing at the time; I began to organize it and write it down."

On the Jersey Side of the Hudson

Weiskopf has been Coordinator of Jazz Studies at New Jersey City University (NJCU) since 2014, taking over the reins from Ed Joffe, who retired then after directing the program since 1992. Located in Jersey City, N.J., across the Hudson River from New York City, the school offers both bachelor's and master's degrees in jazz performance. Recent graduates include trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, who has performed with Christian McBride, Alicia Keys, the Count Basie Orchestra and many others. Another notable alumnus, Richard DeRosa , is director of jazz composition and arranging at the University of North Texas. NJCU faculty member and trumpet instructor Nathan Eklund completed his master's at the school; he has recorded with Phil Woods, Richie Cole, Spyro Gyra and others, in addition to performing with several New York big bands. Another trumpeter, Vinnie Cutro, a much earlier NJCU alumnus, went on to join Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton and Horace Silver. Other NJCU alumni have worked with a long list major jazz names, including Ray Charles, Jimmy Heath, Maynard Ferguson, Roy Hargrove, Marian McPartland, Claudio Roditi and Nancy Wilson. Over the years, the program has brought in many prominent guest artists to perform with and give master classes for student ensembles, including Benny Golson, Charles McPherson, Joe Locke, Steve Davis and Bob Mintzer. An NJCU alumni band, led by faculty member Richard Lowenthal, has been performing together annually since 2013 at Jersey City's Exchange Place Pier. Their 2015 concert paid tribute to Clark Terry, who did a New Jersey concert tour with the school's band in the late '70s, and featured Wynton Marsalis as guest soloist.

Before heading up the jazz program at NJCU, Weiskopf taught saxophone and jazz improvisation at the school, from about 1994 to 2000, as he recalls. One especially vivid memory for him is his performance at the school with guest artist Michael Brecker, who is one of his major influences as an improviser. "I've probably told this story a million times," he says. "Bob Mover was on the faculty at the time then, too, and he and Mike and I played a tune together. Mike took a solo on 'Tenor Madness,' and he really schooled me on that. It was the kind of thing you have to hear face to face. It taught me a lot. Later, on one of his records, he mentioned me as an influence, and I was really flattered. I never knew him well, but I felt a real kinship with him."

Weiskopf is enjoying his return to NJCU. "The best thing about it artistically speaking is that I've never had a chance to direct a big band before, and it's really fun. The closest I've come is being a guest soloist with other school big bands over the years. And I did that recently, too, with the Airmen of Note, one of the best bands anywhere, a great opportunity. But I've never worked with student big bands long-term. We do four concerts a year, and it's terrific. I really enjoy working with the students and trying to give back a little bit, giving them the benefit of my experience. It's a lot of fun." A February 2016 concert by the band featured several pieces by one of Weiskopf's European jazz contacts, the German bassist, composer and arranger Thomas Stabenow, which were recorded for a 2015 album by the NDR Big Band. Featured performers in the NJCU band included, among others, graduate students Diego Ferriera on tenor saxophone and Nathan Bohatch on vibes.

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