David Weiss is one of those unsung musicians on the scene in New York who has an eye for talented musicians and a penchant for fostering that talent. You can find him any number of nights frequenting jam sessions at Smalls, gigs at Le Poisson Rouge, and rehearsals in Midtown. A quick peek at his discography unveils names like Robert Glasper, Jeremy Pelt, and Marcus Strickland (all of whom he’s produced), Freddie Hubbard, Charles Tolliver, and the Cookers (whom he’s performed with), as well as the New Jazz Composers Octet and Point of Departure (both of which he leads). Point of Departure, his current focus, will be releasing their record and performing at DROM on Wednesday 3/6/13. Check out the concept behind Point of Departure and more below!
Aside from being known in the performance realm, you’ve also produced for a number of artists like Robert Glasper and Jeremy Pelt early in their careers. Tell me about how you developed from a trumpeter to an arranger and a producer.
A lot of it came from when I was doing stuff for Fresh Sound. It was funny, I just came to New York to play trumpet. I had no other thoughts or aspirations other than maybe I could get a gig with Horace Silver or something like that. But one of my first gigs was with Winard Harper. Throughout college I had transcribed a lot of music, like all of the classic Blue Note recordings of Wayne Shorter, Art Blakey, and those guys. People heard that I could transcribe anything, so Winard started hiring me to transcribe music for his Harper Brothers band. At that point Japanese record companies were very busy too. When they made a date, they also picked the tunes a lot of the time. It was their vision, their money, their whatever. So somebody had to transcribe the tunes for them as well.
Then that turned into, “Well, we have more than two horns on this. Can you write an arrangement for us?” That turned into me being in the studio a lot for all of these dates and coordinating the music, so I learned a thing or two about the studio. That turned into, “Well, we can’t make this date. Why don’t you produce it?” So all of these things just really grew organically without me even paying attention.
With the producing dates, what happened was I had started the New Jazz Composers Octet and was trying to get a record label for it. Though maybe a crook to some degree, the Fresh Sound guy generally liked music and was enthusiastic about it. He knew his stuff too, so I went with him. Myron Walden, Jimmy Greene and all these guys were in the octet. So he said not too subtly one day, “I noticed you have black guys in your band. I want black guys on my label.” It wasn’t so much an unusual request as much as the way he phrased it. So anyways, I brought him Jeremy Pelt first and then Marcus Strickland. Robert [Glasper] was on Marcus’ record, so he asked me about him and we did that next. We also did a couple of Myron Walden records. I got Jaleel Shaw on the label too, but I didn’t end up producing him. I’m forgetting a couple, but it was a nice little run.
Now this Point of Departure Band has been around for quite a few years and in quite a few different incarnations. Why did you decide to start this band?
It’s almost been ten years ago now. At the time I still had my composers collective, the New Jazz Composers Octet, where we were doing gigs with Freddie Hubbard and all that. But all the bands I was doing were pretty big. I looked around and there are all these smaller clubs in New York — places that really couldn’t accommodate those sizes. So I thought to myself that I should maybe put together a smaller group. I needed to play more and stay in shape. So I decided to put another band together to allow me to play a little more and exercise that muscle a little more as opposed to the arranging and other stuff I was doing.
So I went around to some of these clubs and soon discovered that they were harder to deal with than place like the Blue Note. I can call up the Blue Note and they would know who I was and thus would talk to me. They’ll tell me either, “That sounds like a great idea,” or “That sucks.” But at least they know you. With these smaller clubs, they don’t know, so I’m just like the 50 other schmucks who walk in the door.
I did some things here and there, but at that point I hadn’t really found the right musicians for the gig. JD Allen was always part of it, Jamire was always part of it. I think Greg Tardy did it for a bit. I was going through a couple different guitarists, but the group just sort of died. Ultimately I ended up getting a residency at Fat Cat. It went on for six months and that’s really where the band was born — around 2006. We had Jamire and JD again, Luques Curtis on bass, and Nir Felder on guitar. A guy at Smalls had actually told me about Nir. So suddenly I had this weekly gig where I could try out the right music and the right musicians and everything. From the summer of 2006 to the end of the year, we played every week. That’s when it really started. Once you play that steadily for six months, it pays off dividends for years. You get that tightness.
Moving forward to 2010, you recorded a pair of live albums with the band. Were you gigging steadily during those in between years?
That Fat Cat residency lasted about six months until they shut down the club for putting up an illegal wall. After that we played around town — 55 Bar, Nublu, those types of places. All three CDs that we recorded were actually only recorded in two days in a row. We were in the studio one day and the next day we went into the Jazz Standard and made the two live CDs. It’s just the first set and the second set. That’s the entire recording history of the band [laughs]. That was almost five years ago and we haven’t been in the studio since. The band peaked — the guys got busy and I got busy. I was doing the Cookers [with Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Craig Handy, George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart], but the problem with playing in that more established band is that it kills your own band.
You’ve mentored a lot of younger musicians throughout the years, including with this band. Do you actively go searching for young musicians or are they people you hear about through word-of-mouth?
Yeah, both actually. One I do a little less now. I don’t get out of the house as much as I used to. A lot of it is recommendation-based. The other thing is, being a trumpet player, when I’m off I’m always practicing and working at home. But if there is too much of a layoff between gigs, I have to go out and play somewhere. Practicing at home doesn’t do it; you have to get a drummer up your ass and back up to peak condition. So I’ll go to jam sessions still. Then once I’m out and going to jam sessions, I’ll hear somebody and give them a try in the band. It’s a little harder with this generation though because they don’t understand rehearsal for rehearsal’s sake. They’ll always be like, ‘Well, is there a gig?” But I guess it’s easier to eliminate somebody if they think there has to be a gig in order to play music.
As far as this upcoming Point of Departure gig is concerned, what is the set list going to look like?
Since it’s a CD release, we’ll be mostly playing music from that album we recorded. What the concept of the band turned out to be is twofold. It was always the idea in my mind to have continuous sets where one tune sort of unfolds into the next and to keep this one continuous thing flowing. The idea was to model the band after this 1969 Miles Davis group. Those live CDs just came out, so now everybody gets that reference. When I put out the live records, there were only bootlegs of that group, so nobody got it.
Miles’ chops are way up and Jack DeJohnette is just rocking away. It’s intense. I first had cassettes of that stuff when I was in college and it always drew me in. I’m a rock & roll kid, so the intensity and the drama that the music brought forth gave me a model. I didn’t want to play any of that music and I’m not going to play that style, but this is the energy and the impact I want to have.
The other thing I’m trying to do is make this a groove band, but not a groove band. A groove band with a jazz mentality I guess. There was a time in jazz where it had an inherent groove to it and there was even a time where people danced to it. I guess for better or worse, I’m a jazz musician. So I want to do all of that harmonic material that appeals to me, but also make it groove. It’s the best of both worlds, and that Miles Davis band seemed to get there. They weren’t as complex as Herbie, Ron, and Tony, but they were certainly informed by them. It wasn’t the same type of nuance, but they moved forward like a tank and grooved hard.
Since the record is five years old, there are some different musicians on the gig, correct?
Yeah that’s the ting with putting out a five-year-old record — the band has changed. Jamire has moved on to bigger and better things, so Rudy Royston is the main drummer now. That’s the thing — if I do have an eye for talent, the problem is that other people tend to agree with you after a while [laughs]. I’m not a rock star, so they move on. So now Rudy is out everywhere and Kush Abadey is making most of the gigs and he’s great too. Matt Clohesy is on the live record and he’s actually still the bass player for the band. Nir is still in the band too and he’s making the gig. JD Allen is probably not going to make it, but we’ll have Myron Walden. So yeah, the band changes over the years. The next step I guess is to bring in new material and turn it into a different kind of band. That means forming a new band with more young guys who are anxious to learn something.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)