Monday, January 4, 2010
MORT WEISS RELEASES FIRST SOLO JAZZ CLARINET RECORDING, RAISING THE BAR, ON FEBRUARY 16TH
Boy meets clarinet. Boy falls head over heels for clarinet. Boy spends every available minute with clarinet. But then the fast life, drugs and alcohol, slowly seduces, then pries the boy from his true source of devotion. Early passions die. The clarinet is abandoned. Four decades pass. Finally, one day, the dreams of youth are resurrected and the clarinet, once again, takes center stage. This is Mort Weiss’ love story.
The culmination of that love affair can be heard on Weiss’ newest release, Raising the Bar (SMSJazz), which is slated for release on February 16th. All 17 tracks on the CD are imbued with heart and conveyed with honesty. As Weiss once said in an interview with About.com, “…nobody plays the clarinet like me, because I am not (just) in love with the clarinet. I’m in love with expressing an emotion which is the essence of any art form.” Samuel Chell of All About Jazz says this release is “clearly Mort’s best and up there with the all time best.”
Born in the mid 30s in Pennsylvania, Mort started taking clarinet lessons when he was nine. When he moved with his family to Los Angeles, he continued with classical music, and during his teens studied with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra’s esteemed clarinetist, Antonio Remondi. After graduation and a year at the Westlake School of Music, the precocious teenager soloed on several T.V. programs with the Freddie Martin Orchestra, a.k.a. “The Band of Tomorrow.”
Weiss’ acquaintance with jazz began with Dixieland. But when he first heard a Charlie Parker record, he was hooked. He frequented jazz clubs, participated in after-hours jam sessions, and practiced with fervor. Buddy DeFranco became his idol.
At the age of 19, Weiss was drafted and played tenor sax in the Army band. After discharge, and for the next ten years, with a dearth of work for jazz clarinetists, the sax became his bread and butter. His life became lounges, minor jazz clubs, and work in R&B bands.
Enter the 60s. Traveling in the fast lane became a rapid trip down the wrong speedway. Weiss eventually found himself in jail, buck naked, his life a “total shambles”, playing the “wrong” instrument to support a dead-end life style. He decided to “put everything down, including playing music.” His love affair with his horn was put on hiatus.
Unable to disassociate himself from music completely, Weiss began working at a music store. He eventually became District Manager for the company’s chain, and in 14 years opened his own store, The Sheet Music Shoppe, in Santa Ana. Under Weiss’ direction it has grown into the largest purveyor of printed music in Southern California.
In the summer of 2001, Weiss read an advertising flyer that asked “Do You Want To Play Jazz?” The timing was perfect. It was enough to make him dust off his clarinet case, begin practicing, and soon invite guitarist Ron Escheté to jam. Their collaboration led to a recording session that became the 2 CD set, No Place to Hide, the first release of Weiss’ own, newly created SMSJazz label.
Between 2003 and 2008, SMSJazz produced six more CDs featuring Weiss and talented musicians such as Joey DeFrancisco, Ramon Banda, Dave Carpenter, Roy McCurdy, Luther Hughes, and Sam Most.
Weiss’ latest release, Raising the Bar, is a rare treat-a solo jazz clarinet album. The CD is comprised of both standards and originals. In addition to familiar tunes such as “Alfie,” “As Time Goes By,” “Smile,” and “It Might As Well Be Spring,” Weiss plays “Dear Old Stockholm,” a Swedish folk song, and also presents three originals that include “Blues for Håken,” a tribute to his son-in-law Håken Rosengren, a noted classical clarinetist. Given Weiss’ relationship with the clarinet and his musical journey through life, it is totally appropriate that he chose to close with the one tune that for him says it all-“My Way.”