By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
"Jazz is very easily and very often seen as an intellectual exercise--this intellectual background music that's kind of hip," Murphy goes on. "And a lot more people can play it than classical music, so they choose to put it in restaurants. But we like to go out there and be more in your face about it--not in a punk-rock-spit kind of way, but more in an honest way. We're blunt, and we're going to play this the way we are going to play it, and if I totally forget what key this is in, then I'm just going to hold my guitar up to the amp until it feeds back, and I'm going to fit that into the song one way or another."
When a Weissman launches into wanton noise, expect the others to back him up. "Everybody else will listen to him and support him, and if he's going to make it work, we'll help him make it work," Benjamin says. "Nobody's left out on their own, and no one is told, 'Don't be like that.'"
Still, the band's soloists try not to abuse the right to wank. In contrast to his work as Lance Corona, a pseudonym he uses in a bizarre-guitar side project, Serviolo notes that "I personally like to play inside and as straight as possible sometimes. I get a kick out of it. I like that perfection aspect of it."
"That's because Mike's the left-brained guitarist and Brian's the right-brained guitarist," Terry observes. "Mike's Mister Mathematics, and Brian's a Calder mobile."
As for Bissinger and Terry, they rarely showboat. "We play in two groups, Gamelan Tunas Mekar and a shadow-puppet group," Terry says. "In that context, you learn to play your part to support the ensemble. There is no busting out of the mold or going outside. Going inside is the whole idea there. So bringing that ethic to a band like this, we find that for her to keep the song swinging from beginning to end and for me not to miss any of the changes means we've done our job.
"We're not really cutting ourselves any slack by saying that," he continues. "We're working hard to learn how to do this, and we're accomplishing the baseline of what's necessary. We're going to evolve and get better at that, but I'm still working on hand blisters. By us sticking to the job, I'm playing like a Bacharach session guy. When the other guys go outside and play the Monk stuff, you can have this wild shit going on, but you still sit there and go, 'It sounds like jazz...'"
That's truer on some nights than on others. "You've got to keep in mind that we've done rock gigs and we've done jazz gigs and we've done improv gigs," Serviolo remarks. "So if need be, we can go into any one of those modes."
"If we go somewhere where we have to play for 45 minutes, then we are going to tend to fill it up with more originals than not," elaborates Bissinger, who chooses each evening's set list from more than forty vintage compositions and a growing bevy of newly penned tunes. "When we play the Lion's Lair, we tend to play louder and more raucous, more 'Colfax.' But when we are at City Spirit, where we have to play for three hours--well, you can't play rock for three hours unless you're stupid."
"Or you're Bruce Springsteen," Serviolo mutters.
This flexibility is a point of pride for Terry, who notes, "I would venture to guess that there's few bands in town that have played the Lion's Lair and the Brown Palace," where the group recently did a wedding-reception gig. Their resilience also comes in handy in dealing with random absenteeism. "Any three of us could play at any time," Murphy says. "It's like redundancy in case of disaster." At a recent performance, Benjamin filtered his horn through what he describes as "a small echo-reverb thing" in order to fill up space left by a missing bandmate. By employing such methodology, he goes on, "we are able to reinterpret the songs in a different way every time we come up and play. If somebody can't make a gig, we try to land on our feet. We try to keep the arrangements loose enough--and the songs, I think, are strong enough to where it won't fall apart."
Indeed, the quintet's own material is gaining strength--so much so that it's slowly taking over the Weissman repertoire. "If we practiced and played seven nights a week and we lived together, then our songs would be the ultimate expression of what we're trying to say," Murphy comments. "But since we don't, everything is always competing for space in our lives and in rehearsal, and lately we have this backlog of originals. We're all like, 'I'm coming to practice, and I've got to get my original down tonight. I really want to play "Caravan," by Ellington, but that can wait! I've got this original!'"
In other words, the musicians in the Perry Weissman 3 are still learning the ABCs of jazz, but they've already gone far beyond their initial objective. "The opportunity to achieve something within a disciplined context is something that's different from the anarchy of being in a punk-rock band," Terry says. "It's equally powerful, but it's a lot more subtle."
"The only thing that's different now is that what we're playing is stylistically a little different," Serviolo suggests. "And I think that that's to our credit.