Artist Feature

Dan Weiss
By Ken Waxman

Music transcends it all,” boldly states drummer Dan Weiss. “I play with musicians from the States, Europe, India, etc. I’ll play with musicians from Mars if we’re on the same page. I don’t think about where people are from. It’s only about the music for me, nothing else. Not color, not background, not anything.” Although there are no reports of collaborations with space aliens from the Red Planet or elsewhere in the list of musicians Weiss will be playing with during his six day residency at The Stone early this month, a cross section of terrestrial artists with whom he works frequently are featured, including saxophonists David Binney, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Tim Berne and Ellery Eskelin, pianists Jacob Sacks, Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell plus bassists Mike Formanek and Trevor Dunn. Missing are some other Weiss stateside contacts as well as his regular European partners. The list is a testament to his versatility.

Weiss, 40, who grew up in Tenafly, N.J. and has lived in Brooklyn for many years, explains that his influences include countless drummers in the jazz tradition “from Baby Dodds and Papa Joe Jones up to all the amazing drummers playing today, as well as rock drummers, soul drummers, funk drummers, tabla drummers, African drummers, metal drummers, punk drummers, Brazilian drummers. I’m always listening to music and trying to search for things I don’t know about. I like to study and learn.”

Most prominently this learning has, since he was 19, included the serious study of the tabla and Indian classic music with Pandit Samir Chatterjee, who will perform a tabla duet with Weiss one night at The Stone. And while Weisis says “the center of my world has been the drums” since his parents bought him his first kit at six years old, because before that “I was beating up on everything I could get my hands onto”, he has also studied piano, vibes, electric bass and Hindustani vocal music. Someone who never considered anything else but music as a career, Weiss says he decided on the drums “when I heard John Bonham; when I heard Tony Williams on Nefertiti that completely sealed the deal.” At 14, discovering Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street plus John Coltrane’s First Meditations was what drew him to improvised music.

Growing up in a household where the records of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Steely Dan were constantly being played by his father, a hobby guitarist, Weiss was soon duetting with dad. In high school his first regular gigs were in local restaurants and coffee shops. Then while attending the Manhattan School of Music at Manhattan, where his major was jazz drumming and his minor classical composition, he began working with many of the musicians he knows today, including membership in Berne’s trio and Mitchell’s quartet. Binney he met after college and for the past 16 years the two have had a gig every other Tuesday at the 55 Bar. Mahanthappa too is a long-time collaborator. As for Chris Potter “I first met Chris when I was in college in 1997. Then I reconnected with him through Binney in 2004. I just came back from Russia playing with Chris’s quartet,” the drummer states. Weiss has also established a regular touring and recording relationship with Jozef Dumoulin from Belgian and Florian Weber from Germany. “Jozef I met through my good friend Trevor Dunn, while Florian called me in 2010 to make a record. Both are amazing musicians and piano players.”

Although sideman work takes up about 75 per cent of his time, Weiss would like more exposure for his own groups, which include a trio with pianist Jacob Sacks and bassists Eivind Opsvik or Thomas Morgan, plus larger ensembles, whose Pi CDs, Fourteen and Sixteen have titles which reflect the number of featured players. Both discs include through-composed material. “I definitely didn’t want to compose for a standard big band and I didn’t want to compose for a strictly classical situation,” he explains of their genesis. “So I basically split the difference to write compositions that fall somewhere in the middle. There’s a lot of attention paid to the composition and form. The large ensembles contain a unique team of instruments including voices, harp, horns, organ, percussion, and a standard rhythm section. On a couple of the pieces there’s very little improv in the traditional sense, but since the musicians are all incredible improvisers it would be a shame not to utilize their skills. So there’s improvising in some form or another on most every piece.

“I’ve written with non-conventional forms ever since I can remember. I like to blur the lines between composition and improvisation to create more unity within the given piece. So all my compositions, whether they’re written for trio or large group, employ this tool. I love through-composed music of different genres and that can’t help but influence me. Lately I’ve been composing parts on the drum set and writing around those. I`m also messing around with electric bass to feel closer to the next batch of music I write.”

If all this isn’t enough, Weiss’ study of tabla and Indian classical music has led him to record CDs playing traditional sounds on the full drum set. “The tabla’s rhythms and sounds have influenced my approach to playing. But along with those specific things, other factors are at work,” he notes. “The rigorous discipline that’s needed to maintain the instruments is something that influences me, as has the approach to accompaniment. Through studies with my teacher I’ve felt first-hand how music has enormous power to transform oneself.” Another way Weiss helps others transform themselves through music is by teaching, which he has done privately for the past 20 years. He often gives drum clinics and markets videos aimed at drummers or anyone who wants to broaden his or her rhythmic perspective.

Always busy, he’ll soon record a new Indo-Pak Coalition recording with Mahathappa and Rez Abassi; a session with Sacks’ quintet featuring Eskelin, Tony Malaby, and Formanek; and a Mitchell CD on which he plays tabla. As a leader his next so-called trio CD will include Sacks with both Morgan and Opsvik; and he’s in the process of composing music for a 2018 release with Taborn and Mitchell on synthesizers, piano, and electronics, Ben Monder on guitar, and Dunn playing electric and acoustic bass.

However there are still no extraterrestrial sessions scheduled.

Recommended Listening:

• Dan Weiss – Jhaptal Drumset Solo (Chhandayan 2005)

• Dan Weiss Trio – Timshel (Sunnyside Communications 2010)

• Jacob Sacks Quintet – No Man’s Land (Yeah Yeah Records 2013)

• Dan Weiss Ensemble – Fourteen (Pi Recordings 2014)

• Florian Weber – Criss Cross (Enja 2015)

• Dan Weiss Ensemble – Sixteen: Drummers Suite (Pi Recordings 2016)

—For The New York City Jazz Record May 2017