Pianist Michael Weiss, grand prize winner of the 2000 BMI/Thelonious Monk Institute Composers Competition, has established a formidable reputation working with such names as Johnny Griffin, Art Farmer and Wynton Marsalis. In addition to his demand as a sideman, Weiss' role as bandleader, recording artist, composer, arranger and educator have earned him accolades from both audiences and critics:
"...one of the most dynamic young pianists in jazz"
"...focuses the intensity of a tune as well as any pianist in mainstream jazz"
New York Times
"...writes with thought-provoking originality"
"...one of the most dependable pianists on the scene"
The New Yorker
The veteran jazz critic Ira Gitler probably summed it up best: "The music of Michael Weiss has those qualities which touch the heart, the soul, the mind and the 'call it whachawanna'."
Born in Dallas, Michael began piano studies at age six. Beyond his classical training, Weiss developed a quick ear picking out pop songs on the keyboard. At fifteen, he discovered the world of jazz at the Interlochen academy in Michigan. There Weiss studied arranging and subsequently penned several big band scores while in high school. He continued his studies at Indiana University while gaining invaluable bandstand experience with Indianapolis jazz veterans, Al Kiger and Pookie Johnson. After earning a bachelors degree, Weiss moved to New York and soon landed his first "name" gig with Jon Hendricks.
In the early eighties, Weiss was heard regularly as a member of the house band at the Star Cafe with Junior Cook. Engagements followed with the Junior Cook/Bill Hardman Quintet, Slide Hampton and Lou Donaldson. Weiss also had the opportunity to lead groups featuring such acclaimed soloists as David Fathead Newman, Pepper Adams, Frank Wess and Clifford Jordan.
Weiss first gained international exposure with the release of his debut recording, Presenting Michael Weiss (Criss Cross). It was awarded Stereo Review's "Best Recording of the Month" and was "Jazz Pick of the Year" on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. In 1987 Weiss began touring the USA regularly as a member of Johnny Griffin's quartet. Weiss' fifteen year association with the "little giant," which includes four recordings, has earned the pianist widespread critical recognition as a soloist, accompanist and arranger. In the Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich wrote that "whether playing ferociously fast right-hand lines or two-fisted blues chords, Weiss matched the tenor and tone of Griffin's work."
In addition to his work with Griffin, Weiss has served as accompanist to several jazz legends such as Art Farmer, George Coleman, Jimmy Heath, Charles McPherson, Frank Wess, Gary Bartz, the Jazztet, Jackie Paris, Tom Harrell and Al Foster. He also has extensive big band experience, performing with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks, Mingus Epitaph, and Vanguard Jazz Orchestras. Jazz at Lincoln Center has employed Weiss several times: as featured soloist in the PBS broadcast, Live From Lincoln Center: The City of Jazz, as commentator in Wynton Marsalis' NPR series, Making the Music, and as educator, conducting master classes for high schools competing in the annual Duke Ellington competition. Michael's commitment to jazz education is extensive. In addition to faculty positions at Queens College, Juilliard and the Hartt School of Music, Weiss' educational activities include serving as artist in residence in universities and secondary schools, presenting jazz workshops and master classes.
In the late eighties, Weiss' international reputation increased from touring as a sideman with Griffin, Farmer, the Jazztet and others. Back in New York, Weiss' engagements as a leader included regular trio and quartet performances at New York's legendary piano room, Bradley's. There he concentrated his repertoire on rarely played standards and obscure compositions of the jazz masters. His knowledge of the music of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk resulted in several notable achievements: Weiss won second prize in the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition of 1989. As a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient in 1990, Weiss produced and performed Monk, Bud and Bird: Rediscovered Rarities with Charles McPherson and Tom Harrell. After a concert of Monk's compositions in Washington, Weiss and his trio were invited to perform and discuss the language of bebop on the CBS News digest program, Nightwatch. Barry Harris, a long-time mentor and friend, collaborated with Weiss in the liner notes to the Complete Bud Powell Recordings on Verve, analyzing every track. They also performed in a two-piano concert series entitled, Bud Powell: Two Generations. As a soloist and bandleader, Weiss has been featured on several NPR programs including Jazzset, The Jazz Piano Christmas Special and Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz.
In the early-nineties Weiss began focusing greater attention to composition. He formed a sextet which served as a workshop for developing his new arrangements. His current septet headlined at the 2000 Detroit International Jazz Festival and was featured on NPR's Jazzset. Other notable engagements include the Smithsonian Institution and NYC's Blue Note. In 2002, Weiss was awarded Chamber Music America's New Works: Creation and Presentation grant to compose a new extended work for the septet. Debuting in 2006 as a leader at the Village Vanguard, "he demonstrated a strong sense of both leadership and organization," said the New York Times.
Weiss' four recordings have received unanimous critical acclaim. Stereo Review devoted a feature review to his debut album, Presenting Michael Weiss (Criss Cross). Power Station (DIW) was selected as one of the top five releases of 1997 by JazzTimes, in which Sid Gribetz said, "Weiss' originals sound as if they were standards of the genre." In Fanfare, Royal S. Brown wrote, "Weiss' consummate command of the piano shows throughout the album." According to the British magazine Jazz Journal, Milestones (SteepleChase) contains "splendid music on every track...piano playing of the highest order." His 2003 release, "Soul Journey" (Sintra) features a collection of all original compositions for septet including the award winning, "El Camino." As Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press writes, "the songs simply smoke."