A Professor with 'Cuban Roots' in Jazz In 1966, Mark Weinstein played trombone on Cuban Roots, an obscure but important fusion of Afro-Cuban folkloric music and jazz. Many years, many albums, and one Ph.D. in philosophy later, Weinstein's new album finds him playing the jazz flute.

A Professor with 'Cuban Roots' in Jazz

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18826528/18841989" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Mark Weinstein is a master jazz flutist who was a master jazz trombonist. For two months one summer he also played bass with a jazz quartet in the Catskills. In 1966, Mr. Weinstein played trombone on one of the most influential recordings in the development of Latin jazz, "Cuban Roots." Soon afterwards he left the world of music. He got his Ph.D. in philosophy and eventually to teach. But Mark Weinstein never stopped making music.

His latest album is called "Con Alma." We're listening to "Gotcha." He joins us from our studios in New York. Mr. Weinstein, thanks very much for being with us.

Professor MARK WEINSTEIN (Flutist, "Con Alma"): Well, thank you very much.

SIMON: So why did you leave music?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: When "Cuban Roots" came out, it was received with almost complete disregard and that was the best I could do. And I figured, well, I might as well go do something else. And so I decided to get a Ph.D. in philosophy, cause that was my undergraduate minor. And then, of course, I ended up doing what Ph.D.s do, teach at the university level.

SIMON: You're teaching at…

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Montclair State University in New Jersey.

SIMON: So what's it like to switch from the trombone to the flute?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: It's a relief. The trombone is a very difficult instrument, it can't move very quickly through the changes. And so you have to have things all planned out. Whereas the flute is just the sweetest, most fluent, most lyrically ambiguous instrument. I love the flute.

SIMON: Let me ask you a bit about "Cuban Roots." I'm sure you thought about this, but it's considered such a classic effort. Why didn't it exactly burn up the charts at the time?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Well, for one thing it was very badly recorded. We recorded the entire album in three hours. And so it ended up being released in mono during an era when stereo was obligatory. And the sound quality was quite harsh.

(Soundbite of music)

Prof. WEINSTEIN: That might have been one reason. Another reason was that no one had ever done anything quite like it. No one had ever recorded Cuban folkloric music as traditionally as I did except for folkloric ensembles that came out of Cuba. And no one had played jazz with Cuban folkloric ensembles.

SIMON: Let's listen to a cut from this new CD. Number seven: "La Coneja Loca."

Prof. WEINSTEIN: You pronounced that perfectly.

(Soundbite of music, "La Coneja Loca")

SIMON: I now that historically there must have been Weinsteins in Cuba at one point. But is that where you trace your lineage?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: No. I come from, my father comes from Kiev and my mother comes from the Russian Polish border. But what there were, were Jewish musicians playing jazz as early as 1920s in New York City. I was also raised in public housing. And the two ways out of public housing is to be a boxer or to be a jazz player, and I was too wimpy to be a boxer so I decided to be a musician.

SIMON: And you see something in the tradition, if you please, the folkloric tradition in eastern European music that translates?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: I see a lot of continuity between a number of folkloric traditions. Interestingly almost all of them begin with flute and then stop using flute, move to clarinet and trumpet as they become successful. I've recorded a number of Brazilian albums, I actually recorded an album in Kiev, Ukraine with Ukrainian composer. And I'm looking forward to an album of tangos that I'm going to try to put a jazz spin on.

Of course I also play straight ahead. The album that's coming out next on Jazz Heads, which is the label that "Con Alma" is on, is called "Straight No Chaser." And it's just a straight bebop album with Dave Striker, Victor Lewis and Ed Howard.

Of course, I don't want to be stereotyped. I don't want to be thought of as a Latin player. I'm a jazz flute player.

SIMON: Let me follow-up on something, I just kind of tossed off as if everybody knows it. Why does the music move from the flute to the trumpet when they become successful?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Because when they become successful they play in larger venues and you can't hear the flute. So the movement is from flute to clarinet, clarinet to either trumpet or saxophone.

SIMON: Let's listen, if we could, the title track here. It's a Dizzy - "Con Alma." It's a Dizzy Gillespie composition.

(Soundbite of music, "Con Alma")

SIMON: Mark, how much are your days philosophy, and how much is music?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: I don't want my dean to find out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Sorry. Well, it's just between you and me, you know.

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Well, I practice hours and hours every day. I don't now if you've noticed but you've already heard three different kinds of flutes. "Gotcha" was bass flute, "Con Alma" was an alto flute and "La Coneja Loca" was a regular concert flute. So I'm playing flute for three, four hours every single day.

Although every once in a while I get into this fugue state and start to write logic. I'll sit down and write a paper and it'll be eight hours later without me realizing it.

SIMON: Let me try and ask you a philosophy question if I could.

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Sure.

SIMON: Let me see how I phrase this. If a jazz flute is sounded in the forest and no one hears it, is it really being played?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: That's an interesting question. If "Cuban Roots" came out and got no play at all, did "Cuban Roots" make an impact? Well, as it turned out although "Cuban Roots" had gotten no play whatsoever, musicians were passing it around on second- and third- and fourth-generation cassette tapes. And all of the sudden people have written in books that that was one of the most important Latin jazz albums ever recorded.

So I guess, yeah, if a flute player plays in a forest it counts as long as there's a recording engineer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let's just do another cut if we could, please, from the CD.

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Sure.

SIMON: This is one of your compositions, and I assume it's named after the subway we both know: "Broadway Local."

Prof. WEINSTEIN: It's the Number one train.

(Soundbite of music, "Broadway Local")

SIMON: So when I heard this composition, which is just beautiful by the way…

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Thank you.

SIMON: …thought about all the times I've gotten off the subway and I've heard people playing music.

Prof. WEINSTEIN: I've played on the subway. I've put in subway dues. It's probably the most horrible experience imaginable. The noise, the heat, but there's something so incredibly intense about it that I would do it any time I had a chance.

(Soundbite of music, "Broadway Local")

SIMON: When you left music for the academy did you ever real leave music or just you ceased to make a principal living at it.

Prof. WEINSTEIN: I stopped playing for three years, during the period when I wrote my dissertation or I started to write my dissertation. And then I had sort of everybody's dissertation writer block after I'd done all the reading. And I decided I needed to practice. So I made every conscience decision.

I said what instrument can you play jazz on but not make a living on. And it had to be wind instrument, 'cause I was a wind instrument player, so I picked the flute. And I'd go out to parks and any time I found a guitar player, I would just sit down with him and whatever he played I would play with. So I was just playing by ear, off of my hands. I didn't take any flute lessons. And within about three years I was playing well enough to make my first recording, although that went nowhere.

But then I really started serious recording when I had the money to put good musicians together, and that was in the mid-90s. And I've just finished my 14th CD.

(Soundbite of music, "Crescent")

SIMON: John Coltrane's composition, it's a real jazz standard, "Crescent." I think you're such a wonderful flute player. Do you pick up the trombone ever?

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Never. I gave my trombone to my nephew, Dan Weinstein, who's a fine trombone player working out of L.A. Although in my last marriage I would play "Happy Birthday" on the trombone for my ex-wife, 'cause you loved the trombone, once a year. But the main thing is I'm living out a dream that I guess sort of a baby-boomer cliché. All my life I wanted to be as good a musician as I could possibly be.

And I'm happy with every record I've ever recorded, even some of the early ones where I wasn't playing flute as well as I would like to. So I guess the cliché is I'm blessed, and I am. I'm absolutely blessed.

SIMON: Mark, thanks so much.

Prof. WEINSTEIN: Thank you so much for your time.

SIMON: Mark Weinstein's new CD is called "Con Alma," speaking with us, of course, from New York.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And you can hear an extended interview with Mark Weinstein and hear full songs from his new album. Just come to our music Web site, NPR.org/music.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.