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Walt Weiskopf: All About the Sound

Bob Kenselaar By

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For Weiskopf, original compositions and arrangements are very important facets of jazz. "I tell students, part of your job as a jazz musician is to write your own material. I honestly believe that, by and large, the success of the musicians we look up to stems from creating their own original material. Even if they didn't focus on original compositions, they certainly arranged what they played in a particular way. Joe Henderson is a perfect example of a guy who wrote great material for himself. He didn't write those tunes for anybody else particularly. He wrote them for himself to play. And they stand the test of time. They work when other people play them because they almost have to see them through his eyes."

Weiskopf describes the jazz program at NJCU as rigorous. "It's very intensive. Basically, you're playing all the time. As an undergraduate there are four semesters of jazz improvisation. There are two semesters of jazz arranging and two semesters of jazz history. As a graduate, it's the same kind of thing—two semesters of jazz history on the graduate level, and you have to write a little more than you do as an undergraduate for the arranging requirements. But it's heavy playing. You have to play a recital as a junior and a senior on the undergraduate level. It's not for anybody who's not interested in doing a lot of playing. Of course, you've got to have a certain kind of mentality to be so captivated and compelled to take it to that degree and really get in there and study and play at that level. But there's something about this music that does that to us. I feel fortunate to be amongst people of like mind who love it as much as I do and really want it. And to the extent that I can, I help them get there. Of course, everyone has to do it on their own. But I know from going through the process myself that talent can only take you so far. You have to be determined. You have to be perseverant and persistent, and organize yourself, and be tenacious. And you can get there."

It never ends, though. "I'm still trying to get there, myself. Still trying to get better and better."

In Weiskopf's drive for improvement and perfection, he draws from the many mentors and influences of his own, always emphasizing preparation and hard work. "I am a firm believer in organizing as much as I can. I've done record dates for other people where they just bring in penciled lead sheets in concert key. I would never think to do that. I want people to be as comfortable as they can possibly be. I write out pretty much everything that I want played, even in a small group setting —background lines, ensemble choruses, whatever it is. And I'm gratified when I hear it back. If it's fun for me to listen to, then I got to believe other people are getting something out of it too. Because maybe it's just a little bit different. It's not just improvised chorus after chorus after chorus. There are very few people who can sustain that—where their playing is distinctive enough or at such a high level that it keeps the audience interested. It's got to be about the composition and the arranging and the treatment, all together with the improvisation, all part of the same fabric."

In other words, it's all about the music, all about the sound.

Photo credit:
Page 1, Anna Yatskevich
Page 7, Bob Kenselaar
Page 8, C. Andrew Hovan

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