Weiss, grand prize winner of the 2000 BMI/Thelonious Monk
Institute Composers Competition, has established a formidable
reputation working in the groups of jazz legends Johnny Griffin,
Art Farmer, Frank Wess, George Coleman, Jimmy Heath, Lou Donaldson, Charles McPherson, the Jazztet, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. 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:
of the most dynamic young pianists in jazz"
the intensity of a tune as well as any pianist in mainstream
New York Times
with thought-provoking originality"
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
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
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' five 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." On his latest release Persistence (Cellar Live), according to Downbeat, Weiss displays "his characteristically virtuosic pianism and lyric, efflorescent improvisations."