Florida Times-Union – Sitting in with the UNF Jazz Ensemble 1 this weekend, it’s drumming legend and, as Bruce Springsteen would say, the star of late night telly-vision: the mighty Max Weinberg.
Weinberg, a 30-year resident of E Street and emperor of the most excellent Max Weinberg 7 on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, stands among the most visible and rock-solid drummers in the business — and, it should be noted, has proven himself an incredibly game comedic straight man as well (let’s just say one-liners like “I’ve found that reindeer will lick just about anything you put in front of them” weren’t something that popped up a whole lot on Born in the U.S.A.).
But he’s also an in-demand guest speaker who logs regular appearances at colleges around the country with his one-man multimedia show, An Evening With Max Weinberg. And the chance to cameo this weekend with UNF’s acclaimed jazz ensemble provided an opportunity too good to miss, he said.
“I’m thrilled to be playing with the great stage band at UNF,” Weinberg said from New York last week. “They’re wonderful musicians down there.”
Weinberg does these kinds of jazz and jump-blues-leaning shows somewhat regularly and said that such gigs, as well as his work on Conan, help him pad out his musical resume even more. “I think at 54 I’m playing with more versatility and finesse and polish than I ever have,” he said. “We’ve done a cross-section of music on the show — not just rock ‘n’ roll.”
Indeed, he’s keen on trumpeting that cross-section — jump-blues, big-band jazz and swing — to schools as well as the folks in TV land.
“One of the main requirements for being a drummer is to be able to convincingly play any kind of music, or you end up not working,” he said, laughing. “Certainly with Springsteen it’s all rock, but on TV I wanted to play all types of music. The jump-blues is something I started back in the ’90s, and that led me into the big-band era update that we do now, music downsized for a seven-piece band instead of 17 or 18.”
But, he added, some of his newest interests are a couple of decades ahead, closer to the era spotlighted by bandmate Steven Van Zandt on his Underground Garage radioshow. “Lately on the show we’ve been redefining ’70s music, and I find that some of that earlier punk — Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash — was more melodic than the punk played in the last 10 years,” he said. “Like ‘Sheena Is a Punk Rocker’ — that’s a good melody that can be adapted to sax or trumpet, so that’s what I listen for. The drums are basically high-energy rock ‘n’ roll.
“Though,” he adds, “it seems to funny to play a Clash song wearing a suit and tie.”
For Saturday’s concert, which is free, Weinberg will sit in with Jazz Ensemble 1 for a number of handpicked tunes, including “one of (his) favorites: our version of Come Fly With Me inspired by the Count Basie recording,” he said.
He’s also lined up numbers by Buddy Rich and Henry Mancini, songs he does regularly with a seven-piece that he can now flesh out for a crowd more than double that. (Weinberg added that during his set he’ll play alongside UNF’s drummer. “I don’t like to leave anybody out,” he said.)
After the show, which benefits the ensemble, Weinberg will take questions from the audience “across all topics,” and stick around for autographs.
This fall’s found him busy in Bruce-land as well: Weinberg contributed interviews and insight to a 30th anniversary edition of Born to Run coming out on Tuesday, Nov. 15, which includes a DVD of a previously unreleaed full 1975 concert. “Thirty years ago,” Weinberg said, “Yeah, that really brings back a lot of memories. And that concert is really something outrageous.”