[JPL] Mark Weinstein Review

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Fri Aug 25 01:16:50 EDT 2006

The Jewish Standard - http://www.jstandard.com
Judaism and all that jazz
By Joseph Leichman

Judaism and all that Jazz

If "O Nosso Amor," "To Our Love," were simply an album name, it would mean 
nothing more than a wedding toast. But for the 66-year-old Mark Weinstein, 
a jazz flutist who lives in Montclair, the name of his most recent 
Brazilian-music record is proof that Weinstein does not try to play his 
music. Instead, Weinstein plays His music.

Weinstein’s jazz career effected a seismic facelift when he rediscovered 
his Judaism as an adult. In all but one of the dozen or so albums he has 
recorded since 1995, a selection from Psalms graces the liner notes. The 
full professor at Montclair University’s Department of Education 
Foundations wraps tefillin every day before class and says that reading the 
haftarah portion at Cong. Shomrei Emunah is the only activity that holds 
his attention like a recording session. Weinstein was raised non-observant 
in Brooklyn, but has since become a fluent Hebrew reader and weekly 
synagogue attendee.

Weinstein is a musical bigamist: his dual commitments to the flute, which, 
he says, "is not really a jazz instrument," whistles soulfully alongside 
his attention to traditional jazz constructs. However, both musical 
identities serve to deepen his one cosmic devotion ­ "our love," O Nosso 
Amor ­ and Weinstein’s relationship with the Almighty.

"I see my albums as performing a mitzvah. The psalms are an overt sign that 
there is a positive commandment to sing. Almost every one makes some 
allusion to singing, blessing, and praising through song," says Weinstein, 
whose album, "Shifra Tantz," is a collection of 13 shtetl and klezmer songs 
set to jazz arrangements. "This is not cashing in on Coltrane religiosity. 
Music is an expression of a connection to something deeper."

Raised in the Fort Green projects, Weinstein first took up the piano when 
he was 6. He eventually switched to the trombone, and played his first gig 
with it at 15. Meanwhile, a salsa bandleader named Larry Harlow taught 
Weinstein how to play Latin music, which became his primary musical 
devotion. In 1967, he recorded "Cuban Roots," an Afro-Cuban jazz album, 
with former Miles Davis pianist Chick Corea and a slew of hallmark Latin 

In the 1970s, Weinstein took a long leave of absence from music in order to 
earn a doctorate in philosophy from City College. He began teaching, and, 
having never had his own bar mitzvah, he reached out to an observant former 
student when his own son turned 12. The student directed him to a shul in 
upper Manhattan where, a year later, Weinstein was bar mitzvahed alongside 
his son.

"I didn’t expect them to call me up for an aliyah," the blessing before and 
after a Torah portion, which consecrates a bar mitzvah ceremony. "I 
couldn’t even read Hebrew," said Weinstein.

By 1995, at 55, Weinstein had been playing the flute recreationally for 
almost 20 years. Deciding he "had something to say" with the instrument, he 
started recording one album every year. He re-established ties with some of 
the Caribbean’s best musicians, and tried to emulate Herbie Mann (born 
Herbie Solomon), his mentor and a world music/jazz-flute pioneer.

"The most available world music is Afro-Caribbean music," said Weinstein. 
"I recorded sacred music from Santeria, which is as close to idol worship 
as you can get without getting into trouble. In the liner notes, I included 
a psalm that translates to ‘Sing the joy of all creation.’

"I wanted to show that praising HaShem is something that can be done 
through the widest variety of vehicles."

Weinstein talks quickly, sticks to the point, and means what says. He 
builds his sentences in a certain direction, like jazz riffs that point to 
a main musical theme. During his conversation with The Jewish Standard, he 
never strayed far from his motif: that finding religion has revitalized and 
revamped his music, and that his work is a vehicle for praise first, and a 
cultural contribution second.

He said that the flute was the first klezmer wind instrument, since 
stronger instruments, like the clarinet and trumpet, were illegal for Jews 
to play when the art from was born. And, although klezmer eventually moved 
to those more audible mediums, a large part of why Weinstein loves playing 
flute is that it harks back to a formative time in Jewish art history. 
Similarly, he loves playing all music, since his melodies are fundamentally 
Jewish in content and/or intent.

"I have an unstoppable, overwhelming need to show gratitude to God," said 
Weinstein,. "Laying tefillin gave me the psychological and spiritual 
freedom to search after the fantasy of being a musician again, and I am so 
grateful for getting a second chance."

And, besides, for "O Nosso Amor," the philosophy professor could think of 
one other reason to dedicate his work to God. Said Weinstein, "My music has 
such a small audience that, if HaShem isn’t listening, it’s pretty much a 
waste of time."

To learn more about Weinstein and his music, go to 

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