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Walt Weiskopf: The New Mainstream

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Despite the fact that his name doesn't show up on magazine polls and is equally scarce among those few jazz guide books on the market, make no mistake about the fact that Walt Weiskopf is easily one of the most mature and fully individualistic saxophonists and composers to come along in the last ten to fifteen years. Possibly because of the fact that he chooses to work within the mainstream tradition and record for the small Dutch-based Criss Cross Jazz label, Weiskopf is not widely known among everyday jazz circles, but it seems that those who have sampled his brilliance are uniformly captivated with his strident approach.

Over the course of his various Criss Cross releases, Weiskopf has shown that he possesses a keen awareness of his own personal muse, both through his saxophone work and his compositional prowess. In fact, his nonet recordings, Song For My Mother and Siren have been universally lauded by jazz journalists and diehard fans for their resourcefulness and innovation. His most recent session, Tea For Two unites him again with alto man Andy Fusco, the pair first working together years ago in the Buddy Rich band and then recording in the mid '90s under Fusco's name. In a recent phone interview, Weiskopf chatted about the disc.

All About Jazz: Well, Walt I have to say that you're one of the most interesting musicians on the Criss Cross roster. Obviously, it seems like a good fit. How do you feel about your relationship with the label?

Walt Weiskopf: I like the freedom that I have with [producer] Gerry [Teekens]. It's a good fit because he just likes whatever it is that I do. There are some other labels [out there], but the ones that in my judgment are kind of a lateral move are not really interested in what I do because they're more interested in avant-garde or "downtown. I mean, at this point, I'm not going to Blue Note or Columbia or Verve. I'm just really happy with this arrangement.

AAJ: You know, what I like about your records is how you vary the format from record to record. What was the idea behind Tea For Two?

WW: Well, the concept behind this record was in doing a standards-type record. Andy [Fusco] is someone I love to play with and we have a history. I'm not sure that without that pairing I would have been motivated to do a standards-based record. Even the originals that are on there are still in the spirit of standards fare.

AAJ: You're playing with Andy is so tight that it's almost as if you speak with one voice. How much preparation went into the recording?

WW: Andy and I got together maybe twice and then we had about an hour with my brother [Joel] at one point before the rehearsal with Billy [Drummond] and Paul [Gill].

AAJ: Now, I know in the past that you've commented about the fact that you really don't like to do standards that much and you've only put one or two at the most on each of your other records. What was the difference with this record?

WW: I don't see the point for me to get on record and do a standard unless there's some kind of a different sound or a different spin on it. I love playing standards but I wouldn't necessarily do it myself that much and Andy hadn't played that many originals before he started working with me so we complement each other well in that way. I wouldn't play these tunes without him.

AAJ: Obviously, everything worked well and I think the results speak for themselves.

WW: I was more anxious about this record date than for any of my own for the reason that I hoped it would do what I wanted it to do. But, I'm so happy with it and it's a big relief in a way. It's just taking on a lot different direction than what I've done in general.

WW: And it must have been cool to hook up with Andy again since you've been associates for so long.

WW: He was my first professional mentor and was a big influence on me while we were in Buddy Rich's band together. Over the years we've done three of my sextet records and then Andy's Big Man's Blues. I kind of designed that date more or less, and so this was something we wanted to do because we have fun playing together.

AAJ: Well, before we finish here, I have to ask you about your experiences playing with Steely Dan.

AAJ: I was just lucky enough to be someone they chose to work on that record [Everything Must Go] and then we toured the next year. I loved doing it, but the issue is being away from home for four months. That was a tough thing. You know I'm not getting any younger and I have an eight-year-old son now and that was the first time I had been away from him for that length of time. But I love the music and I loved the experience.

Visit Walt Weiskopf on the web.

Selected Walt Weiskopf Discography as a Leader:

Tea for Two (Criss Cross, 2005)
Sight to Sound (Criss Cross, 2004)
Man of Many Colors (Criss Cross, 2002)
Siren (Criss Cross, 2000)
Anytown (Criss Cross, 1999)
Sleepless Nights (Criss Cross, 1998)
Song for My Mother (Criss Cross, 1997)


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