Around here, everyone who has even a passing interest in jazz has heard pianist Tad Weed in more than one context. A native of Jackson, he fell in love with jazz at a young age, studied piano, and eventually went to Central Michigan. Some time after graduating, he moved to Los Angeles. After many musical adventures, he returned to his native state in 2000 and very soon became one of the top musicians in our area.
To most local jazz listeners, Weed is mostly known as a versatile, sensitive pianist who plays in many contexts, including his own trios. But Weed is not only an instrumentalist; he is a fully trained and experienced musician who composes, arranges, teaches, and functions as musical director for singers and other performers. Some of the greatest pianist-arranger/composers in modern jazz have had to make do with limited technical skills, even if they developed interesting personal voices. Tadd Dameron and Gil Evans, for example, played what has traditionally been called “arrangers’ piano.” Weed, however, combines writing skills with a prodigious piano technique that seems to have no limits whatsoever. He’s in great demand because he can play anything, be it classical sonatas, swing standards, bebop, or the most far-out experimental jazz.
Such versatility can be deadening, the musician’s equivalent of selling one’s soul to the devil. Weed, however, seems to derive creative inspiration from his encyclopedic musical knowledge, and while he blends into his surroundings like a true professional when required, he somehow manages to maintain a personal creative core that is uniquely identifiable. In all the years I have been listening to him I have never heard him coast; he is always deeply involved with his music, no matter the environment.
He is an all-around musician, but he is above all else a pianist, and when he plays piano, you cannot imagine him on any other instrument. His melodic right-hand lines can be astonishingly fast and complex, but they are always anchored in shifting harmonies coming from the other side of the keyboard. When the time is right, both hands come together with ripe chords. All of this is done with powerful rhythmic drive. Years of working with a wide variety of musicians in different stylistic idioms have left him with a seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of jazz classics, show tunes, and pop materials of various sorts. His arranger’s instincts lead him to craft these materials in novel ways, eschewing the banal presentations of the melody, followed by improvisatory flights, that we so often hear.
On July 13 Tad Weed will offer a rare solo performance at the Kerrytown Concert House, exploring jazz standards and his own compositions, as well as those associated with some of the artists he has performed with over the years. This will be a review of the musical roads he has traveled, presented without rhythm section support. In such a setting we will be able to experience a presentation of the pianist, composer, and orchestrator in perfect unadorned harmony.