BMI jazz composer Michael Weiss, one of the most fluent and flexible jazz pianists of his generation, has won the 8th annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers Competition, sponsored by BMI. Weiss, 42, was awarded a $10,000 grand prize for his composition "El Camino," a smartly tailored song bathed in Latin rhythms and scored for three horns and rhythm section.
Thelonious Monk Composers Competition winner Michael Weiss (left) is congratulated by jazz great Herbie Hancock.
Jazz legend Wayne Shorter (left) meets with winner Weiss after the awards presentation
This year's competition celebrated the burgeoning popularity of Latin jazz, and the judges included such stars of the genre as Hilton Ruiz and Chico Hamilton. "El Camino" blends south-of-the-border rhythms with an active bass line, vivid harmonies and a lithe, through-composed melody adorned by an introduction, interludes, coda and background figures adding spice to the improvised solos. "This award should be a reminder to jazz musicians to play their own music and not be content with a simple 'head' chart or just improvising on a standard tune," says Weiss, of Brooklyn, NY.
A Dallas-native, Weiss has been a stalwart on the New York scene since 1981. He's become a particular favorite of veterans, and his resume includes stints with Lou Donaldson, Art Farmer, Slide Hampton, the Jazztet, George Coleman, Jimmy Heath, Charles McPherson and, since 1987, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, with whom he's recorded three CDs. He also performed with Wynton Marsalis on "Live From Lincoln Center." Weiss has made three albums as a leader, including Power Station (DIW), his most definitive statement as a composer to date with six originals.
"El Camino" has been recorded on a self-produced project Weiss hopes will find a home on a label in the near future. Meantime, he's playing the tune on his own gigs in New York and elsewhere, including a high-profile debut at the Detroit International Jazz Festival in September.