In a jazz climate that rewards neo-conservative tributes and far-flung exercises in deconstruction, David Weiss has distinguished himself another way: through finding flexibility and innovation in music that has its roots in the mainstream. The trumpeter, composer, and arranger has had the opportunity to learn from some of the music's quintessential figures by touring and/or recording with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Charles Tolliver, Billy Harper, Bobby Hutcherson, Slide Hampton, James Moody, Tom Harrell, Louis Hayes and Billy Hart among many others. Weiss was born in New York City, but began his musical studies in earnest by attending North Texas State University. He graduated in 1986 and returned to New York. He soon found work with Jaki Byard, Frank Foster and Jimmy Heath and began to study with fellow trumpeters Tommy Turrentine and Bill Hardman. He also attended Barry Harris' weekly workshops, a valuable learning experience for Weiss and an opportunity for him to play with Mr. Harris and Walter Davis Jr. Weiss also began leading the "After Hours" jam session at the Blue Note with many of the up and coming musicians of the day including Stephen Scott, Winard Harper, Leon Parker, Sam Newsome, Justin Robinson and Rodney Kendrick. Among the musicians he performed with during his tenure were Roy Hargrove, Clifford Jordon, Mulgrew Miller, Jeff Watts, Terence Blanchard, Benny Green, and Billy Hart.
In 1990, Weiss formed a band with tenor saxophonist Craig Handy and began performing in various clubs around New York. The bands various personnel included Benny Green, Stephen Scott, or Dave Kikoski on piano, Christian McBride on bass, and Billy Hart or Jeff Watts on drums. Weiss also assisted Handy with music to the NBC series "The Cosby Mysteries" and arranged the main theme for the show. Weiss began getting more calls for his arranging and transcribing skills. His arrangements/transcriptions have appeared on over 80 CDs. Highlights include CDs by Abbey Lincoln, Freddie Hubbard, and Rodney Kendrick, Alto Legacy with Phil Woods, Vincent Herring, and Antonio Hart, and a Rahsaan Roland Kirk tribute CD entitled Haunted Melodies featuring Joe Lovano, Donald Harrison, James Spaulding and many others. Weiss also arranged the music and performed on a series of tribute concerts to trumpet greats Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little, Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan at Birdland, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and Iridium in New York City. The personnel included fellow trumpeters Tom Harrell, Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, Randy Brecker, Terell Stafford, Brian Lynch, Eddie Henderson, and Claudio Roditi and rhythm section greats Pete LaRoca, Jimmy Cobb, and Idris Muhammad.
In 1996, recognizing a lack of serious new jazz writing, Weiss recruited some young, first-call New York musicians and composers to form the New Jazz Composers Octet. With their passionate rendering of thoughtful arrangements and firm rooting in tradition, the collective quickly established itself as the "sound of the new jazz mainstream" (Ben Ratliff, NYTimes) and was praised for their ability to "stretch hard bops kind-of-unstretchable formula (Jim Macnie, Village Voice). Of Weiss' contribution to the Octet's 1999 recording debut, First Steps Into Reality (Fresh Sound Records), Willard Jenkins commented, "a skilled arranger, transcriber and all-round coordinator, Weiss also brings righteous trumpet chops to this potent mix." (Jazz Times). The CD was also lauded as a "gem" and received a Critic's Pick as one of the Top 5 Albums of the Year in Jazz Times.
Weiss first developed an interest in writing for octet while arranging a couple of Freddie Hubbard compositions for the Hubbard album M.M.T.C. Both Weiss and Hubbard liked the miniature big band sound and decided to collaborate on another album of arrangements of several of Hubbard's more distinctive pieces from throughout his great career. In 2001, Hubbard recorded these selections with the New Jazz Composers Octet on New Colors (Hip Bop). The London Observer praised the Octet's "fine, surging ensemble sound" on the recording, as well as the group's "canny mixture of youth and experience," and finally observed, "Trumpeter-arranger David Weiss is definitely a name to watch."
The octet released their second CD Walkin' the Line (Fresh Sound Records) in 2003 to great critical acclaim which included being voted one of the critic's top ten picks of the year in JazzWise magazine. Weiss used his compositions from this CD to win the prestigious Chamber Music America Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project: New Works Creation and Presentation grant, which provides funds to a composer to create a new work for his ensemble. The octet recently released their third CD The Turning Gate on Motema Music and Weiss has already used his compositions from this album to win a grant from the American Composers Forum's Jerome Composers Commissioning Program.
In 2000, Weiss formed a second group, the David Weiss Sextet to explore new compositional concepts and styles he was developing that did not fit the sound of the octet. The group also introduced to the jazz world two extraordinary new young talents, twin brothers Marcus and E.J. Strickland who were still in college when they the group was formed. The group released their first album (and Weiss’ first as a leader) Breathing Room (Fresh Sound Records) in 2002. The CD also featured Craig Handy, Xavier Davis, and Dwayne Burno. The CD received great critical acclaim from JazzWise (4 stars, recommended, their highest rating), Down Beat (4 stars) and 52nd Street (4 1/2 stars) among many others. He followed his debut with the recently released CD entitled The Mirror (Fresh Sound Records) which has already been hailed as a masterpiece by AllAboutJazz and was voted the # 2 CD of the year (2004) by Tony Hall in JazzWise Magazine.
In the past few years, Weiss has formed three new ensembles, all quite different and with their own unique sound. He formed David Weiss and the Point of Departure Quintet in 2006. As with his earlier bands, he formed this new group around some of the finest up and coming musicians in jazz. This group draws it’s inspiration and approach to music from a period in jazz that seems to have not yet been clearly defined, the late 1960’s, a turbulent but exciting time for jazz when music seemed to simultaneously get more complex and simpler at the same time as a variety of influences infused the music. Some were experimenting with soul, rock and exotic rhythms from the India and the Far East and others were carrying on the innovations of the second great Miles Davis quintet, using the group’s ever- shifting rhythms and harmonic complexities as a springboard to new compositional ideas. Some somehow combined both to create some new, exciting music. The Point of Departure Quintet is re-examining some of the most innovative music of the period, some of it neglected, some, perhaps, never quite as developed as it could have been as things seemed to move at a pace during that period that left some music from being fully realized as they quickly moved on to the next new thing. Weiss also took one his occasional special projects The Cookers and decided to solidify the personnel and make it a real band that would feature some of the most important musicians in jazz that are still living but in his opinion a bit unsung or neglected and give them another showcase for their amazing compositional skills and outstanding improvisational prowess. The group features the compositions of Billy Harper, Cecil McBee and George Cables rearranged for the group by Weiss and also features James Spaulding, Eddie Henderson and Billy Hart. The third ensemble is Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter, a 12 piece mini big band devoted to reimagining the music of jazz' greatest living composer and approach his work as he would, as an ever changing, always evolving body of work. The group performs music from all eras of Mr. Shorter's great career from the Blakey era ("Mr. Jin"), through music from "The All Seeing Eye", up to his latest compositions from "Alegria" and "High Life".