The sound

October 28, 2010


By Michael Swanger


Weinberg adds muscle to tradition of swinging, big band sound


Drum roll, please. Max Weinberg unveils the third act of his storied career when The Max Weinberg Big Band swings into Hoyt Sherman Theater on Friday, Oct. 29 for an evening of music that includes Count Basie covers, swinging arrangements of Bruce Springsteen tunes and theme songs from classic television crime shows.

Building upon his 36 years-and-counting with the E Street Band and 17 years as bandleader of Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” and “Tonight Show” television talk shows, the 59-year-old New Jersey native is embarking on a new musical journey that carries forth the tradition of his boyhood idols (Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa) by taking a 15-piece, horn-driven, big band on the road to play hard-driving, instrumental jazz.

“While I went into a rock ‘n’ roll direction, if I had been of age during the early Rat Pack days, that would have been my genre, that big, swinging, swaggering, energetic big band sound,” said Weinberg.

One of the most recognized rock drummers in the world, who has also worked with Paul McCartney, Sting, Tom Jones, Bob Dylan and Bono, Weinberg brings an East Coast muscle to his big band’s vibrant music.

“I’m not a jazz drummer; I just play one on TV,” joked Weinberg. “But I have a deep admiration for the great jazz drummers like Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Papa Jo Jones and Louie Bellson. They were classy, wonderful musicians. They weren’t headbangers. There’s a place for headbangers, but this is a sophisticated music with a very muscular approach.”

Weinberg’s energetic approach to drumming has been his trademark, though over the years it caused repetitive stress injuries that resulted in seven operations to his hands and wrists.

“I always try to bring a swinging conception to the music,” said Weinberg. “In the early ’90s with Conan, nobody was doing that on TV. It’s what set us apart from the other bands that were playing rock and funk. It caught on and pre-dated the swing revival of the ’90s.”

However, when O’Brien’s new TBS talk show debuts on Nov. 8, Weinberg won’t be there. After 17 years, he and O’Brien parted ways, allowing Weinberg more time to tour with his big band and to perform and record with Springsteen.

“We both agreed it was time for a change,” he said. “I wish him the best of luck. We did 3,500 TV shows together and had a lot of fun. I’m sensitive to the way it ended up with our former network, but I think it will end fantastically well for Conan. He’s a brilliant guy, a brilliant comedian and a phenomenal writer.”

As Weinberg transitions to a new stage in life, it includes his continued work with another longtime employer — The Boss, a subject of an HBO documentary, “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

“It’s always been great working with Bruce because there is a dedication to striving for excellence, and I’m not paying lip service to that phrase,” Weinberg said. “As we’re getting older we play with equal amounts of energy, but a lot more finesse. And apart from being in a band, we’re all deeply, deeply close as individuals. When I joined the band, we started out driving in Garry Tallent’s ’65 Chevy. When you have that kind of bonding experience and you survive it, those bands last forever.

“Of course, Bruce is probably among the top three performers of the rock ‘n’ roll age. His music has tremendous depth, and he has a clarity about his vision. His music is the hallmark of great art because it speaks to you about your condition.”

When he isn’t working with Springsteen, Weinberg plans to tour with his big band and perhaps, one day, record it.

“Making a record isn’t in the forefront of my mind because I’m a live player,” Weinberg said. “I enjoy bouncing into somebody’s town and blowing the doors off the place and going to the next town. It’s sort of a time-honored, minstrel-like profession which I’ve done since I was 18.” CV


Caption: The Max Weinberg Big Band performs Friday, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m. at Hoyt Sherman Theater. Tickets are $40 through the box office and Ticketmaster. The Max Wellman Trio opens.


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