Tim Weisberg - Part I

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The accidental flautist - Part I

September 22nd, 2011 by Mark McDermott

The return of Tim Weisberg, the man who helped bring the flute to rock music and disappeared under the tide of smooth jazz

TimWeisberg1.jpg

Tim Weisberg, who plays the Catalina Jazz Festival in October.

Tim Weisberg just wanted to play drums.
He had entered Daniel Webster Junior High School in West Hollywood on a mission of a sort. His parents – much to their eventual regret, after their son discovered rock n’ roll in the form of Bill Haley and the Comets – had given him a set of drums. Pretty soon he was banging away, loudly, at everything that could possible serve as a drum.
So at school, he took the only class where a young man could learn more about drums. It was beginning woodwinds class, but there was a problem. The teacher, Mr. Armor, decided to divvy up school instruments alphabetically. Weisberg knew immediately that he was screwed: no way would the drums survive to the letter W. Sure enough, by the time his name came up, only two instruments remained – a bassoon, and a flute.
The bassoon looked like a big log. Weisberg, unhappily, chose the flute. His teacher told him if he was still unhappy in a month, they’d find a drum for him. But Weisberg took the flute home and something strange happened: he fell in love with its sound. So much so he came back to Mr. Armor, a flute player himself, and asked him to play it so he could hear what it really out to sound like.
“If there was a Tim Weisberg movie, this would be the dream sequence,” Weisberg, a Manhattan Beach resident, said in an interview this week. “It was so amazing that a long silver tube could sound like that.”
Nothing was ever quite the same after that. As a jock, Weisberg had to endure an endless stream of boy-playing-flute jokes, but his love for the instrument persisted, and his ability to play it flourished. Within a couple years he was playing in a regional youth band that featured the most talented young musicians in Southern California, including future stars Tom Scott (a jazz bandleader who played with everyone from Joni Mitchell to John Lennon) and Jim Gordon (Derek and the Dominoes).
“I wasn’t going to be a musician, but I was surrounded,” he remembered.
He was a swimmer and a water polo player and when he went to Cal State Northridge, he decided to study anthropology as an undergraduate and psychology as a graduate student. It somehow seemed, however, that the world was conspiring to make him a musician.
At Cal State, a renegade, cello-playing, former high school dropout named Fred Katz had somehow become a professor of anthropology. Katz, largely credited with bringing the cello into jazz, played with a cutting-edge band called the Chico Hamilton Quintet, whom he would sometime bring to his classes to play. Katz took the young Weisberg under his wing, inviting him to the free-flowing salons he’s hold at his house, where his wide range of guests included Joan Baez, Marshal McLuhan, and Herb Alpert.
Katz convinced Weisberg to improvise on his instrument. Most flute players tended to be classically educated – and thus rote – but through improvisation Weisberg found a new freedom of expression. He was taking flight.
“Just blow,” Katz told him.
“What?” Weisberg asked. “I was so used to seeing notes….But something pulled me along. I was willing to make a fool out of myself, because something was compelling me to do it.”
Even as he was receiving these lessons in jazz living and playing, Weisberg also kept a foot in the rock n’ roll world. “I was still eating the forbidden fruit of rock n’ roll,” he said.
He couldn’t have known it then, but in straddling these two worlds of jazz and rock, Weisberg had discovered his future.
The bandleader
In college, Weisberg had friends who had a rock band that played frat parties, and he’d tag along, waiting for his cue to come on stage for a song or two.
“They were playing frat parties at USC and UCLA,” Weisberg said. “I wasn’t in the band. I was shy. They’d tell me, ‘We’re doing Louie Louie, and after the piano solo, you can take a solo.’ I’d be standing backstage shaking with terror. Then I’d take the stage, close my eyes, and play. I’d be fine while I was playing, then I’d finish the solo, open my eyes, and be terrified again…But I loved that feedback of performing. I was kind of terrified, but I loved it.”
He was also hooked. He couldn’t get enough of performing. At one point, the frat gigs threatened to dry up – their favorite frat-house’s budget had run aground – but Weisberg had met the guy who did the booking. In fact, he’d been chatting to the guy’s girlfriend (Weisberg might have been shy, but he never lacked for words) when the guy made a bee-line for him. “Oh, you must be so-and-so’s boyfriend,” he recalled saying to the guy, trying to put him at ease. “You are the music guy here, right?”
He discovered that there was enough money to pay for another gig at $25 per guy, excluding himself. He called up his buddy Barry Goodman, who led the rock band. “Hey,” he said. “We got a gig!”
They were supposed to play their first set beginning at 8 p.m. The band was onstage, and Weisberg took his customary position, just offstage, waiting for his cue to come play a couple songs. But the band didn’t start playing. Pretty soon, it was 8:30 p.m., and Weisberg was nervous.
“Why aren’t you guys playing?” he asked.
“Tim, we are waiting for you,” Goodman said.
“Why?”
“Tim, you are the leader – it’s your gig.”
“It was a very strange thing,” Weisberg remembered. “I said, ‘You mean, I get to play on any tune I want?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that is what the leader means. You get to do whatever you want.’ That is how I started having my own group, and that first gig I didn’t even get paid. I didn’t even tell them that.”
After that, things began to happen quickly. Through Paul Horn, a jazz flautist he’d met at Katz’s house, he was invited to play with some band at the 1969 Monterey Jazz Festival. He was only supposed to play a few songs, from charts, so he didn’t realize it was a big deal until he started setting up and realized the group was the legendary sextet led by Julian “Cannonball Adderley, one of the great bands in jazz history.
“I am going, ‘What am I doing here?’” Weisberg said. “I was just beside myself. I was still in grad school. I come back and I’m playing weddings and bar mitzvah’s, leading my own ensemble, learning like crazy from the guys in my band.”
The next year, he got a call from the assistant to the Monterey Jazz festival’s organizer, the jazz impresario Jimmy Lyons. She said Mr. Lyon had thought he was a nice young man and was inviting him to bring his group to open up the 1970 Festival. He accepted, of course. But Lyons – who was doing battle with another jazz impresario, George Wein, who ran the Newport Jazz Festival, where he’d just shaken up jazz purists by having Sly and the Family Stone play – was shocked at the band that turned up.
In a year’s time, Weisberg had gone a little wild.
“I was pretty clean cut before,” Weisberg said. “Next time he’d see me, backstage after our sound check, with the Monterey Festival waiting to open in 1970, I had long hair with a bandana tied around my head, a white Mexican peasant shirt hanging out with hip-hugger bell-bottom jeans with white and blue stripes, Indian beads and roughed up cowboy boots….It’s amazing he didn’t have a coronary backstage. I mean, we looked like we’d just busted down from Haight-Asbury in psychedelic Volkswagen buses.”
Lyons eyes momentarily popped out of his head, but he recovered in an instant and greeted Weisberg like a long-lost son and gave him a pep talk. “They are going to love you!” he said.
Then he went on stage to welcome everyone to the Monterey Jazz Festival. “He makes this big deal about Monterey is returning to jazz – it was a barb at the East Coast for having rock music – and there are these freaking hippies behind him,” Weisberg recalled.
The show was exceptionally well-received, and Weisberg couldn’t believe the bill he’d found himself playing on – the next two acts were the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The next morning, he was eating breakfast at a coffee shop when an elegant man stopped at his table.
I was sitting by myself and I sensed a presence,” Weisberg said. “I look up and from my table and guess who is standing right in front of me? Duke Ellington. He goes, ‘Aren’t you that young gentleman from last night?’”
Ellington praised Weisberg and his band, who he said were wonderfully melodic. And then he un-tucked a newspaper from under his arm and asked Weisberg if he’s seen the local paper yet – on its front page was a photo of Weisberg.
“I think you might want to have this,” Ellington told him. “Your parents might want to see this.”
As the Duke strode away, having bestowed his blessing, Weisberg understood that something had changed. His career had just begun.
http://www.easyreadernews.com/34178/the-accidental-flautist/
 
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