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Weis goes on to the beat of his own drum

July 27, 2012

Photo submitted - Andy Weis, originally of St. Marys, now residing in Monterey, Calif., where he has made his career as a professional drummer, is shown on the drums during a gig at the Lodge at Pebble Beach.

As jazz legend Duke Ellington said, "Music, of course, is what I hear and something that I more or less live by. It's not an occupation or profession, it's a compulsion."
For Andy Weis, a St. Marys native now living in Monterey, Calif., his career as a professional musician and drummer, drum teacher, vintage drum collector, expert, and restorer, is the result of a lifelong compulsion, one which began as a child living on Windfall Road in St. Marys.
For Weis, the youngest of five children born to the late Leo "Bunky" and Audrey Weis, his musical evolution began at the age of five years old. Weis' father was a drummer in high school and kept a drum set up in the attic of the home. Weis asked his father if he could play them and was told he could if he was able to get the kit down from the attic and assemble it himself.
"The bass drum was darn near taller than I was. That was the beginning of me ruining his jazz collection," Weis said.
Weis explained that he would listen to his father's jazz albums and mimic the drum parts, practicing along with the albums of Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington.
As scratches appeared in the vinyl, Weis would place a coin on the arm of the turntable which he said then acted like a makeshift lathe, digging literal grooves into the records.
After the family relocated from Windfall Road to Lafayette Street in downtown St. Marys, Weis said his practicing was a common sound for passersby in those days.
"I just recently learned that people could hear me practice downtown in the late 60s and early 70s. Someone would ask, 'What's that sound?' And someone else would say, 'Oh that's just Andy practicing his drums.' Had I known this, I might have been pretty embarrassed," Weis said.
Weis credits his parents with being tolerant of his constant practicing and encouraging his aspirations. He said that after he went away to college, his mother said she found the house "kind of lonely without the drums playing all the time."
While in St. Marys, Weis, in an attempt to become as well-versed a player as possible, immersed himself in every genre of music he could, from polka to country to rock and roll. He credits his musical experiences in St. Marys with making him able to play as many styles of music as possible convincingly.
"Growing up in St. Marys, I took advantage of as many musical experiences as possible," Weis said. "I performed in SMAHS Band, Community Band, Johnsonburg Diplomats Drum and Bugle Corps, and a variety of local rock, country, and polka bands. A couple of the rock bands included my sister, Lynne who is a very fine singer and performer."
Prior to his attending the Berklee College of Music, Weis got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when presented with a chance to sit in with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra when they played the Ridgway Country Club in 1973, the year before Ellington's death.
"I knew all of the tunes he called out because I'd been practicing to his records. Even today, it's one of the highlights of my life," Weis said.
After graduating from Berklee in 1975, Weis said his formative years as a musician consisted of touring with what he described as a "post-disco band" in chain motels across the country and helped to make him the musician he is today. He described a nomadic lifestyle of touring in the early years as "one band turned into another, then that turned into another and within two years it was all over and I came back to St. Marys."
Weis said that while he kept returning to St. Marys, he knew that he wanted to make music his career and in order to do so, he needed to locate himself in an area with a thriving music scene.
It was at that point that Weis joined the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Band in 1980. Weis said he was able to essentially choose where he would be stationed and settled on Fort Ord in Monterey, the home of a renowned jazz scene and the Monterey Jazz Festival.
"I didn't want to grow old and regret not serving my country, for one, and I knew I could get in the Army band," Weis said of his decision to join the Army.
In order to establish himself in Monterey's jazz scene, Weis thought it logical that he take a job at the local music store patronized by the area's musicians.
"So I was able to meet all the local musicians pretty fast working in this music store and started working gigs rather quickly," Weis said.
A motivating factor for Weis to find an additional source of income as a musician was his being newly married with a newborn child.
"It seems like all these different things I've done, it's been for multiple reasons," he said.
In his career spanning some 30 years, Weis has worked with many an artist passing through Monterey who has performed concerts backed up by a band of local artists. In doing so, Weis has established himself as a consummate professional, a musician's musician and is considered a "1st call" drummer for these types of concerts.
Weis said the essence of being a drummer involves keeping good time, but ultimately making sure everybody in the band sounds good.
"The first thing is, it's never about me unless it's about me. It's always about the music until I might be featured in a particular song," Weis said.
Weis said when he first arrived on the scene in Monterey and began playing with "first-class musicians," he was taken aback by the lack of compliments shared after the gig. He said he soon discovered that the compliment came instead in the form of a call-back.
"But once in a while someone would say, 'You really gave it up.' That meant you gave up your ego and because the music is bigger than you and you let the music dictate what you played rather than what you wanted to play. And to me that's what it's all about, it's about the whole," Weis said.
Over the years Weis has backed artists including The Drifters, The Mills Brothers, Guy Lombardo Orchestra, Mary Wilson (from the Supremes), Bill Watrous, Bud Shank, Richie Cole, Plas Johnson, Grammy Award winner Karyn Allison, Mark Murphy, Scott Hamilton, and Bruce Forman.
Weis said in playing casually at parties with local Monterey artists, there were instances where well-known musicians like Glen Campbell, George Benson, or The Oak Ridge Boys would "sit in" with the band.
In addition to his playing, Weis is also known as an expert on vintage American drums from the 1900s to 1980s, a hobby of his being restoring them to their original condition with the goal of preserving American drum history.
"I am in the liner notes and also thanked and quoted in Mike Curotto's book, 'The Curotto Collection, Rare American Snare Drums 1900s to 1940s,'" Weis said.
Also a drum teacher, Weis has had students go on to to attain their own accolades, some appearing on late-night and daytime talk shows and others winning national awards.
As a child Weis, said Andy Florio, a Big Band drummer, was a long-distance mentor, writing letters and introducing him to the late Louie Bellson, whom Weis called his "best friend." Following Bellson's death, Weis assisted in compiling a tribute issue to Louie Bellson in DRUM! Magazine in which he was interviewed about Bellson, and his interviews of Bellson were also included.
In addition, Alan Dawson, Weis' drum teacher at Berklee College of Music was another musical influence.
Weis said memorable moments in his career are difficult for him to narrow them down because there are quite a few. Aside from his gig with Ellington and his orchestra, and getting billing at the Monterey Jazz Festival multiple times, Weis recalled being the first jazz drummer to perform in a 2,000-year-old amphitheater in the south of France, a structure originally commissioned by Julius Caesar.
"I found out later that I was the first jazz drummer to ever play in that place. All of these performers over 2,000 years, there was a vibe going on," Weis said.
Weis will be playing next at the Monterey Aquarium with a Big Band on July 29, then the Santa Cruz Wharf with a seven-piece swing band on Aug. 2.
While Weis said he has a fondness and affection for the people of St. Marys and the surrounding areas, he doesn't live here because musical outlets are limited and it would mean he couldn't do what it is he truly wants to do.
"And it has nothing to do with anything but that. My mother said you have to go out there and do what it is you want to do. Call it following your dream, I've been so fortunate to make a living playing drums or playing and teaching drums," Weis said.
Weis said success is a relative term and that he is fortunate to have been able to make a living doing what he loves. While his is a love affair with jazz music, he said there is only one distinction, that of good music and bad music, and added that at this point in his life he is fortunately out there "pretty much always playing good music with good musicians."

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