[JPL] Mark Weinstein Review
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.
Weinsteins 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 Universitys 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
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 Weinsteins 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
"I didnt expect them to call me up for an aliyah," the blessing before and
after a Torah portion, which consecrates a bar mitzvah ceremony. "I
couldnt 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 Caribbeans 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 isnt listening, its pretty much a
waste of time."
To learn more about Weinstein and his music, go to
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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