J A M E S W E I D M A N
Described by New York Times jazz critic Nate Chinen as "a pianist with a broad résumé and a graceful style", James Weidman decorates a song like many decorate the favorite room in their house—one carefully-chosen piece at a time. As one of the world's top side man, he has played and recorded with musicians as diverse as Joe Lovano, Steve Coleman, Sonny Stitt, and Jay Hoggard.
He has also been the accompanist of choice for some of the world's most celebrated singers, including legendary jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln and Cassandra Wilson. Clearly, Weidman -- described by jazz critic Ben Ratliff as playing "smoothly and decorously" behind Lincoln at a recent reunion concert -- is one those rare accompanists to whom singers feel it is safe to give free rein.James is also a gifted teacher, and currently works with aspiring musicians at William Paterson University. With the release of his second solo album, appropriately entitled "All About Time",Weidman looks set to strut his stuff and take his place among the world's top bandleaders.
"When I first moved here, someone said to me: 'Be careful in New York. They'll typecast you!'" laughs Weidman, whose incredible versatility -- developed over 30 years of working in a myriad of styles -- has made that impossible. "The more genres you are comfortable with, the deeper your understanding of music," he asserts. It has helped Weidman to develop his amazing technique and, as he imparts to his students (he is a faculty member at William Paterson, New Jersey), "the better your technique, the better your communication." However, the content of the communication is the most important thing. "You're really telling a story to your audience," he says. "It's a shared journey. That's why I called my first solo album People Music, because we are all supposed to share this music."
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Weidman was born into a musical family and first learned to play jazz from his father (a saxophonist and bandleader) at the age of seven. "He taught me some of the songs he played in the band," says Weidman. By the time he was 13 he was playing organ in his father's jazz band. "We played the chittlin's circuit," he says. Throughout his years at Youngstown University (he graduated cum laude with a degree in classical and jazz piano), Weidman continued to divide his time between his studies and performing in local jazz bands, gradually becoming one of the best players in town.
Moving to New York, the jazz Mecca of the world, was inevitable. "Someone told me that I could get work there as long as I had an electric piano," says Weidman, who packed up his Fender and set off for the city. Almost immediately, he found himself playing with jazz greats Cecil Payne, Harold Ousley, Bobby Watson and Pepper Adams, before falling in with Steve Coleman. "I really wanted to play with Steve because he was doing something new," says Weidman. "His compositions force you to think differently and playing his very demanding rhythms and harmonies is really challenging. That was exactly what I wanted. It gave me a freer outlook on music." Indeed, challenging himself musically continues to be very important to Weidman. "I used to play with this older cat in Brooklyn and at the end of every gig he would turn to me and say: 'Well, I learned something!'"
Weidman has perhaps learned the most with his long term collaborator, highly acclaimed saxophonist TK Blue, who is also Randy Weston's musical director. "When I first met TK in 1978 we were both writing and our band was like a workshop. It was a great laboratory for both of us in terms of trying out our ideas. And we still constantly challenge each other," says Weidman. "But our playing together nowadays is more about intuition than notes," he says. "TK is much more than just a fellow musician. He's a spiritual brother. And it takes that learning process to a whole other level," says Weidman. To hear them together is to be made intensely aware of Weidman's most important music lesson: It's the story that counts. "I've never forgotten my father's advice the first time I ever played with him. 'Keep the time, stay out of the way, and tell a story.'"
Weidman has performed at the world's major venues and festivals, including the Montreux, Monterey, Newport, North Sea and JVC Jazz Festivals, Carnegie Hall, Birdland, Blue Note, Sweet Basil, Village Vanguard, Iridium and Jazz Standard.