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Weiss, Michael

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A native of Dallas, Texas, pianist and composer Michael Weiss made his Village Vanguard debut as a leader in 2006 with his quintet. Reviewing the ensemble's performance, New York Times critic Nate Chinen praised Weiss' composing, playing and bandleading skills, noting that "he demonstrated a strong sense of leadership and organization." Chinen also wrote that Weiss was "a confident and sometimes sparkling presence on piano" and that his playing exhibited "sensitivity and logic, along with crisp control."   Weiss’s extensive resume includes work with Johnny Griffin, Art Farmer, Frank Wess, Slide Hampton, Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, the Jazztet, Lou Donaldson, Charles McPherson, Von Freeman, George Coleman, Joe Wilder, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Junior Cook and Bill Hardman. Groups led by Weiss have performed at the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival, the Stanford Jazz Festival, the Smithsonian Institution, NPR’s "Jazzset," and in New York at the Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Jazz Gallery, Smoke, WNYC and WQXR. In 2000, Weiss was awarded the BMI/Monk Institute Composers Competition grand prize, presented to him by Wayne Shorter for his piece, “El Camino”, which appears on Weiss' latest CD, “Soul Journey”, with influences as varied as Scriabin, Szymanowski and Shorter, Weiss' compositions focus on extended forms, thematic development and attention to detail. In 2003 Weiss was a recipient of the Doris Duke/Chamber Music America New Works grant, for which he wrote the suite “Three Doors.”

 

After more than 25 years as a musicians’ musician in the trenches of the New York jazz scene, pianist and composer Michael Weiss is finally getting a measure of the attention his talents so richly deserve. His quintet made a critically acclaimed debut at the Village Vanguard in 2006, followed by a successful return engagement at the club in 2007. Now Weiss is bringing a star-studded trio into the Vanguard with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. The engagement marks a new peak for Weiss but also a full-circle return to the format, inspiration and personnel associated with the first flush of his success in New York.  In the late 1980s after Weiss had established himself as a top-call sideman with bebop veterans like tenor saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Junior Cook, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and trombonist Slide Hampton he became a regular at Bradley’s, the premiere piano room of the day in New York. Weiss typically led trios at Bradley's that often featured either Washington or Nash. Weiss also worked with Washington for several years in Griffin’s quartet, and Weiss and Nash spent a season together in the Art Farmer-Clifford Jordan quintet of 1989. More recently, Weiss and Nash have anchored the rhythm section behind veteran trumpeter Joe Wilder’s highly praised residencies at the Vanguard.  The other key link between Weiss, Washington and Nash is the late pianist Tommy Flanagan, whose suave and sophisticated style left an important imprint on several generations of musicians. While Washington and Nash were longtime trio mates with Flanagan, Weiss considered the older pianist a mentor and the two became friends. Weiss has a similar relationship with Barry Harris, who, like Flanagan, was also originally from Detroit  all three pianists share an affinity for Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and mining the rich trove of neglected standards. Flanagan thought highly enough of his younger colleague that he often attended Weiss’ performances, including his 1992 Merkin Hall concert entitled “Rediscovered Rarities: Monk, Bud and Bird.” When Flanagan was hospitalized briefly at one point, he even sent his wife to Bradley’s to take note of Weiss’ repertoire. While Weiss still loves to draw from his unusually deep knowledge of jazz tunes and standards, his repertoire since the mid 90s has leaned toward his original compositions, which favor a meticulous attention to detail, rich harmonic schemes, formal ingenuity and imaginative melodic and rhythmic development. Still, while his writing has become fleshed out with a broader range of ideas and influences, Weiss’ improvisations have never shed his bop-oriented roots. For this engagement, Weiss will focus on his originals with a number of standards mixed in.

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