A gifted acoustic pianist, composer, bandleader, and arranger, Ezra Weiss has been a perfect example of what jazz critics like to describe as a "Young Lion" -- that is, a young improviser who started out playing straight-ahead jazz rather than fusion, avant-garde jazz, crossover jazz, or electric jazz-funk. The hard bop/post-bop pianist emerged in the '90s, but his influences are people who became well-known in '40s, '50s, or '60s. Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton, and Kenny Barron are among the pianists who have affected Weiss' piano playing, and his arranging/bandleading style owes a lot to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Clearly, Weiss is a huge fan of the classic Blue Note recordings of the '50s and '60s -- he sounds like he lives and breathes classic Blue Note -- and many of the jazzmen who have affected him as a soloist, composer, or arranger have some type of Blue Note connection. Blakey and Silver, in fact, recorded for Blue Note extensively back then, and Walton was among Blakey's many Jazz Messengers.
Born in Phoenix, AZ, in the late '70s, Weiss moved to Ohio in the '90s and attended Oberlin Conservatory (where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in jazz composition in 2001). After that, he lived in Portland, OR, and became quite active in the northwestern city's jazz scene; in Portland, he has led his own quartet and sextet (a Jazz Messengers-style hard bop/post-bop group). Portland is also where Weiss has led the band Blues Connotation, which has recorded an album titled Preview. In 2002 (the year he won ASCAP's Young Jazz Composer Award), a 23-year-old Weiss traveled to New York City and recorded his debut album, The Five A.M. Strut, which found the young pianist leading a sextet and playing his own compositions exclusively. Boasting Antonio Hart on alto sax and veteran player Billy Hart on drums, The Five A.M. Strut was released on the Umoja label in 2003; Weiss co-produced the CD with acoustic bassist Leon Lee Dorsey. ~ Alex Henderson