David Weiss — band leader, arranger and composer — actually knew the local music legends whose works he will perform over the Labor Day weekend at the Detroit Jazz Festival.
Weiss will be joined by his band, Point of Departure, to give audiences a more complete experience of the styles developed by the late pianist Kenn Cox and the late trumpeter Charles Moore.
Besides long playing works linked to both entertainers, Weiss talked to them about their work and found encouragement for his own projects.
“Kenn stayed in Detroit for most of his life and was a great composer and a great force in the local jazz scene,” Weiss explains in a phone conversation from his New York home. “I visited with Kenn’s widow, Barbara, and went through a lot of his music.
“I talked to Kenn on the phone a couple of times, but I talked to Charles a lot. What attracted me to Charles’ music — and it’s part of the credo of Point of Departure — was the focus on the late 1960s, when soloists were taking the music in many different directions and making anything possible.
“We play it all quite differently every night and quite differently than Charles might have done it. That was the point: to create something that gave the band more possibilities of what to do than just playing melody, featuring a solo over that form and then going to melody again.”
Weiss, who has worked with many top jazz performers, will be returning to the Labor Day festival, where he has entertained in the past. He also has played other Motor City venues, including the Music Hall.
“Detroit musicians didn’t get the credit in the world that they probably should have gotten,” Weiss says. “Musicians knew about them. Cassettes of their music were passed along when I was in college.”
The two Detroiters performed together as part of Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet.
Weiss, who had resisted music studies as a child, agreed to try piano at the urging of his mom. More interested in sports, he moved on to trumpet when he heard breathing exercises for that instrument made for a stronger athlete.
“I went to California Institute of the Arts to study photography,” Weiss explains about his early career interests. “The students were having bands so I pulled out my trumpet and started playing with them. It soon became clear that trumpet was my priority, and I went to North Texas State University, where they have a big jazz department.”
Composing seemed to come naturally as the musician sat at the piano working on transcriptions and arrangements, particularly after returning to New York for work opportunities. While appearing with a lot of different bands, from salsa to soca, he felt his Jewish heritage entertaining at klezmer weddings.
“A European label hired the production company I worked for to make demos for young artists, and I got the idea for a composers’ collective [New Jazz Composers Octet],” says Weiss, 51 and single. “We started 20 years ago, and we all brought in tunes and played them.
“I’ve always tried to work with the legendary artists and have my own bands with up-and-coming guys. The bands have all been different conceptually, but they’ve all been about finding young talent needing experience.”
The David Weiss Sextet was about his writing with young musicians. Point of Departure developed out of the period of jazz that showcased a lot of flux.
“We’ve been to Israel twice,” says Weiss, who regularly is heard in New York clubs. “The first time, we played for the Jerusalem Jazz Festival and appeared at a museum and a club. The second time was at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival.
“The first time we played, we went right back home. The second time, I was able to stay an extra couple of days, and some locals were nice enough to drive me back to Jerusalem to see [some history].”
Weiss feels very comfortable with Detroit audiences, describing them as filled with people informed about the jazz scene and its local history. He will do very little talking about the people being celebrated, relying on the music to carry the shows.
The pieces will draw attention to both the past and the future, especially when represented on Point of Departure albums. “Snuck In” and “Snuck Out” both included music by Charles Moore and captured a live show. More of Moore’s tunes will be in an upcoming release, still untitled, to be available in February.
“Detroit jazz fans come up after concerts and tell me about Kenn or Charles,” Weiss says. “The festival brings out the cream of the Detroit jazz fans.” *
FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US
There’s a festival for every taste this Labor Day weekend.
Hit the Detroit Jazz Festival, then check out the many more ways to extend the fun Labor Day weekend experiences offered in the metro area as the summer comes to a close.
Those who like to view and buy art will find juried works offered at a number of annual events, where Jewish artists are among those showing individualized approaches.
Allan Teger, a psychologist manipulating photographic subjects, will have a booth at Ford Arts, Beats & Eats (artsbeatseats.com), running Sept. 2-5, in downtown Royal Oak. Visitors also can listen to many musical performers and sample foods from popular restaurants.
“I’ll be showing images of miniature toys placed on human bodies as landscapes,” says Teger, based in Florida. “I want to express my interest in perception and show that there is more than one way to look at something. I play with reality.”
Phil Kutno showcases a stream of consciousness approach to detailed pencil drawings also scheduled for Ford Arts, Beats & Eats. The artist, who has no plan as he begins a drawing, additionally will display his oil paintings of newsmakers, including music icons Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
“The drawings reflect where I come from and my artistic values,” says Kutno, who describes himself as an intuitive artist and included a sketch of a New York synagogue supported by his family as a detail in The Flood.
Kutno, who lives in Arizona, extends opportunities to see his work by participating in the Art & Apples Festival, scheduled Sept. 9-11 (pccart.org), in Rochester. Boris Kramer, who is based in Pennsylvania, will also be at Art & Apples, showcasing Judaica pieces he formed out of steel, bronze and copper. Although he is not Jewish, Kramer was encouraged to enter this field by a Jewish couple operating a Toronto gallery that carried his sculptures.
More local happenings include:
• For those who want to get a rural feel, there is the Fifth Third Bank Michigan State Fair, offered Sept. 1-5, at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Agricultural contests, the Shrine Circus and parades enter into the mix so long a state tradition. Michiganstatefairllc.com.
• The Michigan Peach Festival, running Sept. 1-5 in Romeo, gives foodies a chance to enjoy peaches in all kinds of creative ways with plenty of sports competitions — tennis, running, golf, softball — to take care of the calories. Music, arts and carnival rides also are offered. Michpeachfest.com.
• The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, Sept. 3-5, has a so-called Yacht Race, a fun event involving pushcarts that look like canoes on wheels, among the traditional foods, varieties of music, art and carnival fare. Hamtownfest.com.
• A one-day event, the Franklin Roundup and Art in the Village, has food, music and art for a Labor Day tradition in the center of town, near to the popular Franklin Cider Mill as it opens for the season. The Roundup includes a parade, midway games, petting farm, pony rides, inflatables, magician and rescue dogs for adoption. Franklinartinthevillage.com. *
By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer