Happy Birthday Sid Weiss, Schenectady’s Forgotten Jazz Legend

If a soundtrack of The Swing Era was ever assembled, Sid Weiss would be playing bass on more than his fair share of it. He played with four key big bands – Artie Shaw (1938-9), Tommy Dorsey (1940-41), Benny Goodman (1941-45) and Charlie Barnet (1943) – as well as short stints with Jerry Wald, Bunny Berigan and others. He also did a lot of freelance recordings, some of them very notable. A person can only be in one place at a time, yet from 1935-45 Weiss seemed to defy this, he was all over swing music of both the big and small band variety.

Weiss was born in Schenectady, on April 30, 1914, and studied clarinet, violin and tuba while quite young, switching to bass in his teens. He studied with the principal bassist of the Washington, D.C. Symphony, which showed because his technical grounding was very good – his intonation, sound production, articulation and bowing were expert, plus he was a natural-born swinger. He moved to New York City in 1931, continuing to study bass while beginning to work professionally with Louis Prima, Connee Boswell and pioneering bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini. In 1935, Weiss became a regular with trumpeter Wingy Manone’s hot little swing group featuring clarinetist Joe Marsala and some of his earliest recordings were done with them.

Weiss joined Artie Shaw in 1938 just as his band was becoming really popular and remained through 1939. He plays on some of the band’s most famous records – “Nightmare”, “Indian Love Call”, “Back Bay Shuffle”, “Moon Ray” and the smash hit “Begin the Beguine”, which made Shaw a mega-star and altered his life forever, whether he liked it or not. Weiss and Buddy Rich both left Shaw for Tommy Dorsey’s band, arriving in early 1940 around the time that Frank Sinatra did. Weiss did a lot of touring and recording with Dorsey during this peak, but left the band in September of 1941, electing not to join them on an extended stay in Hollywood.

Soon after this, Weiss joined Benny Goodman for several stints between late-1941 and 1945; he would become a B.G. favorite, especially in his small groups. He made a bunch of terrific Columbia sides with Goodman’s Sextet in 1941 (featuring Lou McGarity on trombone and Mel Powell on piano) and with his Quintet in 1944 (featuring Red Norvo and Teddy Wilson.) Sid returned to the fold in 1950-52, recording with Benny’s various Sextets, which often included Terry Gibbs on vibes, Wilson, Mundell Lowe on guitar and the great Don Lamond on drums. During the war years, Weiss was also part of several USO bands that entertained American troops overseas.

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