Yes, there's celebrity cache attached to Max Weinberg, who brought his big band to the Jazz Kitchen for two shows Wednesday evening. The drummer behind Bruce Springsteen and Conan O'Brian certainly has brand recognition thanks to years on the road with the Boss and his time on late-night TV, which no doubt helped build the audience for his two sell-out (or nearly) shows here.
But the musicians he brought, the songs he selected, and his on-stage manner made clear that this is no ego-driven project. Weinberg was remarkably generous in allowing his 14 players--horns to his left, piano and bass to his right-- to take the spotlight for extended stretches of the show. He even incorporating a dueling sax competition that proved to be the highlight of the early set.
The evening kicked off with "This Could Be the Start of Something Big," the theme song of Steve Allen's original "Tonight Show" and one whose title now has a hint of irony thanks to the circus of activity that resulted in O'Brian (and Weinberg) being canned from that program. Offering the intro to Henry Mancini's theme from another one-season show, the 50s TV series "Mr. Lucky," Weinberg took a jovial dig at NBC, his former employer, but he came across as playful rather than bitter.
Weinberg offered praise to his idol, Buddy Rich and to composer Count Basie, but also found time in the program for arrangements of a trio of Beatles tunes and Springsteen's own "Kitty's Back." He also shared memories of playing Market Square Arena with the E-Street Band--and taking a memorable side trip to the Red Garter with saxophonist Clarence Clemmons.
Between sets, Weinberg patiently and jovially talked with admirers at the bar, giving one more reason why intimate venues such as the Jazz Kitchen (who am I kidding, there's no other venue like the Jazz Kitchen) make for unique musical experiences.
Here's hoping that some of the JK newcomers, attracted by the high-profile name and won over by the outstanding playing, will return to the local treasure of a club to hear more. And that Weinberg and company will make frequent return visits.