Born of a communal need to share the modern mainstream jazz music they collectively love, the New Jazz Composers Octet serve a second purpose in fulfilling their need to write fresh jazz pieces. Established in 1997 and based in New York City, the band is led by founding member David Weiss, who plays trumpet and is in charge of arrangements. Sticking with acoustic instruments, the bandmembers are also influenced by the more harmonically advanced writers in jazz such as Tadd Dameron, Gerry Mulligan, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Gil Evans, Benny Golson, and Sam Rivers. Weiss came across some of the members of the band in 1996 while working with Carl Allen and Vincent Herring. A well-known transcriber who worked on projects for major record labels as well as the Rahsaan Roland Kirk Project, he discovered the rhythm section of pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer Nasheet Waits. While doing arrangements for Freddie Hubbard, Weiss formulated the idea of a self-determining, large co-op ensemble, settled on the idea of an octet, and started recruiting horn players.
The original members included tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy, alto saxophonist Myron Walden, trombonist Andrew Williams, and baritone saxophonist James Farnsworth. Unfortunately, Farnsworth passed away after their debut Fresh Sound/New Talent recording, First Steps into Reality, in February of 1998, and Dave Rickenberg joined the group in the bari chair. As much an archivist and curator as trumpeter and bandleader, Weiss took to adding his charts on favorite jazz pieces as well as bringing forth newly composed music. By the second CD, Walkin' the Line, the NJCO added saxophonist/flutist Jimmy Greene (who guested on the first album), trombonist Steve Davis, baritone saxophonist Chris Karlic, and honorary members saxophonist Craig Handy and drummer Joe Chambers. The band gained notice and acclaim as a unique combo performing new music, and released its third CD, The Turning Gate, on the Motema label in 2008. The disc featured the group's fourth baritone saxophonist, Norbert Stachel. ~ Michael G. Nastos