Max Weinberg is bringing the big band sound back to Red Bank.
The longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and the former bandleader for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien'' and "The Tonight Show,'' Weinberg will be bringing the 15-piece Max Weinberg Big Band home to Monmouth County for a show on Friday (June 11) at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
According to Weinberg, instrumentally-based big band music "is what I'm really devoted to these days, getting this off the ground, living on the bus, which is a tradition in the great tradition of all the jazz bands that I admired, the big bands.''
In a recent phone conversation about the upcoming show at the Basie, which will also serve as the kick-off for a national tour, Weinberg explained how he first approached the classic sounds of big band music.
"When I was hired to be the music director and bandleader on the original 'Late Night' program in '93, the mandate was to not be a be-boppy jazz band, not be a blues band like 'Saturday Night Live' had at the time, not be a rock band, not be a funk band like Arsenio Hall's band, they were all great bands but they wanted something different.
"What I latched onto was jump blues which was, as you may or may not know, a short-lived genre of music in the late-40s, early-50s that was kind of the link between big band, swing and rock 'n' roll.''
For Weinberg, playing the work of Count Basie, a Red Bank native and big band pioneer, "led me to really open my ears after a lifetime, really, of playing rock 'n' roll,'' he said. "So, it has always been my dream to create a 15 or 16-piece big band, which of course in today's economic climate is relatively unfeasible; you can see why the big bands broke up in a lot of ways, because small combos (with) four, five, six pieces were a lot easier to maintain, financially and economically, but the music that I wanted to play really needs that big, thick horn sound, it's 12 horn players and three rhythm players.''
Weinberg also discussed the similarities and differences between holding down the beat for a rock band and drumming in a big band.
"The basic idea is to keep it solid, steady and swinging, so there isn't really a difference in the objective,'' he said. "But, you learn playing with a big band that it's a lot of people to move, it's a lot of air they're pushing and when you're sitting in the driver's seat of something like that, it's quite a different feeling than being in a rock band, and I quite enjoy it. I've gotten a tremendous thrill out of playing this music and experimenting ... and one day I hope to be a really good drummer.''
While the Max Weinberg Big Band's repertoire includes material by swing and big band luminaries such as Basie - his number "The Kid From Red Bank'' is among the tunes the audience at his namesake venue can expect to hear - Weinberg will also be tipping his hat to his other long-time musical occupation at his Red Bank show.
"What we've done is taken some classic Bruce Springsteen songs and re-interpreted them in a jazz approach,'' Weinberg revealed. "Now, this is not just sort of playing the backing tracks without a vocal, this is significantly harmonically changed to reflect what we're doing, which is big band swing.
"I think people will get a kick out of it. I can tell you that one of the songs is going to be our take on 'Kitty's Back,' which lends itself to a swing interpretation. But as I said, it's jazz changes, not necessarily rock changes, and in my memory it's the first time anybody's attempted to do this. There have been a lot of great interpretations of Bruce's material, but this is quite a different take on it.''
From Basie to Hoboken's Frank Sinatra and beyond, plenty of jazz, swing and big band luminaries traced their roots to New Jersey, a tradition Weinberg is incredibly aware of.
"You know, Newark, for example, the area in which I grew up, had a fantastic tradition of jazz clubs, so there's always been that kind of music,'' Weinberg said. "I think there's a lack of regionalism in music today, but this is fantastic, fertile ground for jazz musicians.''
Weinberg's June 11 performance at the Basie will also be tapping into the Jersey tradition of musicians giving back, as it will serve as a benefit for Joan Dancy and PALS, a foundation which provides financial and emotional support for people in Monmouth and Ocean Counties dealing with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
"It is a time-honored tradition, certainly in New Jersey, particularly in Monmouth County where I live, at all levels of bands, from young punk bands performing in Asbury (Park) in support of various foundations or even individuals who are facing challenges up to the Springsteens and Bon Jovis and I'm glad to be a part of helping when I can and this is a great way for me to kick off this national tour that we're going on in front of my adopted hometown of Red Bank. ... You find there's a real tradition of people using whatever abilities they have to both bring attention to, in this case, an illness, and also a fundraising effort, because the awareness is important, and so is the, frankly, money to support the foundation's efforts to help people.''
Asked if there was any news about his future with O'Brien or his possible involvement in O'Brien's upcoming late night talk show for TBS, Weinberg revealed, "there actually isn't any news. I would just encourage people, if they're interested in that part of my career, to stay tuned.''
The Max Weinberg Big Band‚ 8 p.m. Friday, June 11‚ Count Basie Theatre, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank‚ $50 to $250, with $500 and up VIP seats within the first 12 rows‚ 732-842-9000, http://www.countbasietheatre.org