David Weiss Biography
Moving jazz forward has been David Weiss’s modus operandi ever since he appeared on the scene in the late eighties when he established himself in New York by touring and/or recording with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Charles Tolliver, Billy Harper, Bobby Hutcherson, Slide Hampton, James Moody, Tom Harrell, Louis Hayes, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Billy Hart, among many others. Weiss was born and raised in Queens, New York and began taking piano lessons when he was ten years old. He added trumpet to his arsenal when he was 13. The music in his neighborhood was rock-n-roll and the favorites were the likes of Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath, which he embraced. His tastes soon evolved to more progressive rock like King Crimson and Gentle Giant and then to further out European rock groups like Magma, Area and Henry Cow. In high school, he began playing keyboards (and also a little trumpet through effects) in some local rock bands and right before leaving for college began to play in a band that eventually morphed into the group Material featuring future producers Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn. While in art school, Weiss became more exposed to free jazz and began to focus primarily on trumpet again. He also got the opportunity to perform with Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Henry Kaiser. Weiss then left art school to attend Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio studying with George Lewis, Jimmy Giuffre, Leo Smith, Pauline Oliveros, Gerry Hemmingway and John Zorn among many others. At the suggestion of Mr. Giuffre, Weiss sought out a more fully rounded music education and transferred to North Texas State University. Upon graduating, Weiss returned to New York and soon found work with Jaki Byard, Frank Foster and Jimmy Heath and began to study with fellow trumpeters Tommy Turrentine and Bill Hardman.. He also became a mainstay in New York’s thriving Salsa scene, playing with many of the legends of the music. He also played in many of the top Haitian and Soca bands in New York and toured extensively throughout the Carribean with these groups. Weiss also did a short stint with Ray Charles and assisted in scoring the music for the TV show “The Cosby Mysteries” starring Bill Cosby.
In 1996, recognizing a lack of serious new jazz writing, Weiss recruited some young, first-call New York musicians and composers to form the New Jazz Composers Octet. With their passionate rendering of thoughtful arrangements and firm rooting in tradition, the collective quickly established itself as the “sound of the new jazz mainstream” (Ben Ratliff, NYTimes) and was praised for their ability to “stretch hard bops kind-of-unstretchable formula (Jim Macnie, Village Voice). Of Weiss’ contribution to the Octet’s 1999 recording debut, First Steps Into Reality (Fresh Sound Records), Willard Jenkins commented, “a skilled arranger, transcriber and all-round coordinator, Weiss also brings righteous trumpet chops to this potent mix.” (Jazz Times). The CD was also lauded as a “gem” and received a Critic’s Pick as one of the Top 5 Albums of the Year in Jazz Times.
Weiss first developed an interest in writing for octet while arranging a couple of Freddie Hubbard compositions for the Hubbard album M.M.T.C. Both Weiss and Hubbard liked the miniature big band sound and decided to collaborate on another album of arrangements of several of Hubbard’s more distinctive pieces from throughout his great career. In 2001, Hubbard recorded these selections with the New Jazz Composers Octet on New Colors (Hip Bop). The London Observer praised the Octet’s “fine, surging ensemble sound” on the recording, as well as the group’s “canny mixture of youth and experience,” and finally observed, “Trumpeter-arranger David Weiss is definitely a name to watch.”
The octet released their second CD Walkin’ the Line (Fresh Sound Records) in 2003 to great critical acclaim which included being voted one of the critic’s top ten picks of the year in JazzWise magazine. Weiss used his compositions from this CD to win the prestigious Chamber Music America Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project: New Works Creation and Presentation grant in 2001, which provides funds to a composer to create a new work for his ensemble. The octet recently released their third CD The Turning Gate on Motema Music and Weiss has already used his compositions from this album to win a grant from the American Composers Forum’s Jerome Composers Commissioning Program in 2005.
In 2000, Weiss formed a second group, the David Weiss Sextet to explore new compositional concepts and styles he was developing that did not fit the sound of the octet. The group also introduced to the jazz world two extraordinary new young talents, twin brothers Marcus and E.J. Strickland who were still in college when they the group was formed. The group released their first album (and Weiss’ first as a leader) Breathing Room (Fresh Sound Records) in 2002. The CD also featured Craig Handy, Xavier Davis, and Dwayne Burno. The CD received great critical acclaim from JazzWise (4 stars, recommended, their highest rating), Down Beat (4 stars) and 52nd Street (4 1/2 stars) among many others. He followed his debut with The Mirror (Fresh Sound Records) which was hailed as a masterpiece by AllAboutJazz and was voted the # 2 CD of the year (2004) by JazzWise Magazine. The group recently reconvened to record their third CD and their first in ten years entitled When Words Fail.
In the past few years, Weiss has formed three new ensembles, all quite different and with their own unique sound. He formed David Weiss and the Point of Departure Quintet in 2006. As with his earlier bands, he formed this new group around some of the finest up and coming musicians in jazz. This group draws it’s inspiration and approach to music from a period in jazz that seems to have not yet been clearly defined, the late 1960’s, a turbulent but exciting time for jazz when music seemed to simultaneously get more complex and simpler at the same time as a variety of influences infused the music. Some were experimenting with soul, rock and exotic rhythms from the India and the Far East and others were carrying on the innovations of the second great Miles Davis quintet, using the group’s ever- shifting rhythms and harmonic complexities as a springboard to new compositional ideas. Some somehow combined both to create some new, exciting music. The Point of Departure Quintet is re-examining some of the most innovative music of the period, some of it neglected, some, perhaps, never quite as developed as it could have been as things seemed to move at a pace during that period that left some music from being fully realized as they quickly moved on to the next new thing. The band has released two critically acclaimed CDs (Snuck In and Snuck Out) recorded live at the Jazz Standard for Sunnyside Records. Weiss also took one his occasional special projects The Cookers and decided to solidify the personnel and make it a real band that would feature some of the most important musicians in jazz that are still living but in his opinion a bit unsung or neglected and give them another showcase for their amazing compositional skills and outstanding improvisational prowess. The group features Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Donald Harrison, George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart and features compositions by Harper, Cables and McBee rearranged for the group by Weiss. The band has now released four CDs in the past four years and has been touring around the world in support of these CDs . The third ensemble is Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter, a 12 piece mini big band devoted to reimagining the music of jazz’ greatest living composer and approach his work as he would, as an ever changing, always evolving body of work. The group performs music from all eras of Mr. Shorter’s great career from the Blakey era (“Mr. Jin”), through music from “The All Seeing Eye”, up to his latest compositions from “Alegria” and “High Life”. Their debut CD, recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center, was released in 2013 to celebrate Mr. Shorter’s 80th Birthday.