Bart Weisman: A Drummer Rolls In
By Sean Corcoran (for the Cape Cod Times)
“This was where I was going to come someday,” he remembers thinking. “It just felt right: the water, the houses, the smells, everything. It was the whole feel, not just of Cape Cod, but of Provincetown. Everything was right.”
Twenty-five years later, Weisman and his wife have a condo in Provincetown and a living room view of Cape Cod Bay. He compares that first glimpse of Provincetown to a similar moment of clairvoyance when he was thirteen years old and living with his family in Washington, DC.
“We lived a couple of doors away from a house that was having a party, and I stumbled into the party where a guy was playing a drum set.
It was the first time I had every seen a drum set up close, and there was something about it. I knew instinctively that is what I would be doing with the rest of my life,” Weisman says. “Seeing Provincetown was just like that.”
Since that night as a boy, Weisman, now forty-seven, has been on a musical journey that eventually brought him to the tip of Cape Cod. Along the way, he’s played with some of the country’s best-known jazz musicians, including bassist Keter Betts, a long time side man for Ella Fitzgerald, and Vocalists Lea DeLaria and Rebecca Parris. Before settling in Provincetown two-and-a-half-years-ago, he lived his entire life in Washington.
In addition to performing at jazz clubs in Washington, he also played at the White House and the vice president’s mansion numerous times for two presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Regan.
But these days, Weisman is interested in Cape Cod musicians. “I came here and wanted to work with established musicians on the Cape,” he says. “Like you want to buy local, I wanted to work local. I didn’t want to rely on people in Boston.”
At first, though, Weisman had to dip into the Boston Jazz scene to put together a group.
“It was interesting when I got up here, I thought there would be a lot of work and there wasn’t,” he says. “So I found my own way.”
Weisman quickly began to make connections, both with club owners and other musicians. Meeting Carol Wyeth, a local jazz singer, was particularly fortunate, he says, because she introduced Weisman around to local jazz musicians.
Weisman had learned how to find his way through a music scene by playing hundreds of rooms throughout the East Coast. By the time he moved to Provincetown, he had been a professional for decades.
When he was seventeen, he studied percussion with the principal percussionist of the National Symphony Orchestra. He loved rock, but during his high-school years he immersed himself in jazz, reading about it and listening to all he could.
At age eighteen, Weisman’s musical journey took an unexpected turn when he passed up studying at some of the finest conservatories on the East Coast and instead tried out for the Air Force Band. He was accepted into The Diplomats, an Air Force Band quartet. Whenever the president, vice president or a military general throws a party in Washington, the Diplomats are one of the first groups to be called.
The band was always on call and it was like a musicians’ boot camp, and the most important requirement was versatility. One night they would play jazz standards, the next it might be rock ‘n’ roll or Latin numbers.
“We would not know what the situation was until we arrived, so there was a lot of improvisation and relying on our skills,” he says.
When combined with his part-time school work and a computer day job, the pace was brutal. Weisman recalls one gig at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland when the bass player threw a wadded-up piece of paper at him.
“I looked up at him and he smiled,” Weisman says. “Afterward I said to him, ‘Why did you do that?’ And he said, ‘well, you fell asleep.’ I only had one questions: Did I miss a beat? And he said I didn’t miss a beat.”
Working that much, Weisman developed one of the most important skills a musician can have: how to read a room and know what to play next.
“I am always thinking about what song should played next,” Weisman says. “When do you put in a ballad? When do you have a Latin? When do you play a rock tune, and those kinds of things. I am very cognizant of what people want to hear and what they are responding to.”
After leaving the Air Force Band, Weisman says he spent much of the 1990s performing in every major venue in Washington. Some nights he was a jazz specialist. Other nights he branched out to rock, fusion, pop, Latin, disco, klezmer, orchestral and even musical theater.
About three years ago, the time was right for Weisman to come to Provincetown and stay. Market conditions were good for selling his house in Washington, and his business as a recruiter of computer professionals was going well enough so he could do it remotely. Weisman’s wife, photographer Amy Heller, had spent her summers in Provincetown as a child. Her sister, Julie Heller, owns an art gallery on Gosnold Street and their father lives in Provincetown, too.
“I had never lived in a small town where you walk down the street and people know your name,” Weisman says. “It took me a while to get used to not hearing airplanes or helicopters and all the things we got used to in Washington.”
These days, Weisman is fully immersed in the Cape music scene. For much of last summer he played seven nights a week and loved it. In August, Weisman co-produced the first Provincetown Jazz Festival, an annual event he is busy planning for 2006.
Weisman also recently released a CD of jazz and Latin standards that was recorded on the Lower Cape using only year-round Cape Cod musicians. It is called simply “Bart Weisman Jazz Group Featuring Carol Wyeth.”
All eight musicians on the album are pros, but most had not worked together before.
“That is typical in jazz,” Weisman says, “where you’ll bring three or four people together that have never worked together but are able to work spontaneously.
“Jazz is an international language that all jazz musicians speak,” Weisman says, recalling a time he sat in with a group at a wedding in France. He couldn’t speak French, but the music guided the impromptu band along.
“I could speak music.” He says.