Remembering Tad Weed

Tad Weed, one of Southeast Michigan’s most brilliant pianists, passed away on August 22 at age 61 after a long battle with cancer.
Born in Jackson, Michigan, in 1957 into a musical family, Weed’s career took off after he moved to California in 1977 where he established himself as a versatile performer and arranger, excelling as an accompanist and musical director to singers such as Anita O’Day and Carmen McRae and most prominently with pop singer Paul Anka, with whom he worked for over a decade. At the same time, he pursued more ambitious directions, playing for a year with path-breaking modern saxophonist Charles Lloyd and connecting with the local avant-garde scene with luminaries such as pianist Horace Tapscott and reedman Vinny Golia. He appeared on several albums on Golia’s Nine Winds Records, including two under his own name: a solo tribute to pianist Gene Harris, and Soloing, which also included trio tracks with bassist Ken Filiano and drummers Joe LaBarbera and Billy Mintz. Weed also appeared on other records on Golia’s label, some under the leadership of trumpeter Rob Blakeslee, saxophonist Kim Richmond and drummer Dick Berk, with whom he worked and recorded extensively both as pianist and arranger. In addition, Weed had a job at Discovery Records that provided an outlet for his organizational and arranging skills.

During his sojourn in Los Angeles Weed also found work with mainstream jazz groups, including the big bands of Woody Herman and Bill Holman, with guitarist Mundell Lowe, as well as with saxophonists Nick Brignola, Teddy Edwards and Richie Cole. His versatility was much appreciated by musicians and critics alike, leading the influential critic Leonard Feather, in a review of a performance by a quintet led by valve trombonist Mike Fahn, that “Weed has all bases covered, from funky blues to the border of the avant-garde.” Along the way he completed the academic studies he had started at Central Michigan University, obtaining BA and MA degrees from the Grove School of Music in Van Nuys, CA.

Weed returned to Michigan in 2000 to be near his mother as her health declined. One night, he walked into the Bird of Paradise in Ann Arbor as bassist/owner Ron Brooks recently recalled: “He sat down and said: ‘Can I play?’ I did not know anything about him…. It was a gift to us and we were ready for an upgrade.” He soon became a member of the house trio with Brooks and drummer Pete Siers, playing a weekly gig and accompanying major visitors until the Bird closed four years later. The trio eventually regrouped and had a weekly gig at the Raven’s Club on Main Street in Ann Arbor and performed occasionally elsewhere. The one document of their collaboration is the Ron Brooks Trio CD Three B in Flight (Robro).

When the Bird closed, Weed moved to Susan Chastain’s Firefly Club. Together with bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Sean Dobbins, the Dobbins, Krahnke & Weed Trio recorded two CDs for PKO Records: Odyssey: Live at the Firefly in 2006 and Swing is the Thing, Vol 1, The Music of Ellington & Strayhorn in 2009. The trio also backed many visiting artists like vocalist Sheila Jordan at the Firefly and the Detroit Jazz Festival. As he had during his time in LA, Weed was much in demand in Michigan and Ohio as an accompanist for vocalists, often working as pianist and arranger with local singers, most prominently with Shahida Nurullah, as evidenced by the CD The Ruby and The Pearl in 2002 (Alembic Arts).

More recently, Weed’s major mainstream gig was with clarinet virtuoso Dave Bennett. They toured nationally and recorded several CDs celebrating the music of Benny Goodman.

The more adventurous side of Tad Weed’s musical personality found expression in his Freedom Ensemble (with saxophonist/composer Andrew Bishop, Kurt Krahnke and drummer Pete Siers), which played weekly at the Firefly until it closed in 2009, documented by the album TBD (PKO). Just two years ago, this group, augmented by old LA friends Golia and bassist Ken Filiano, with whom he had played often in a variety of contexts in his younger days, offered a wonderful set at the 2016 edition of Ann Arbor’s Edgefest festival.

Weed was also a wonderful teacher, both in private lessons and during various adjunct positions at the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University and elsewhere, culminating with a tenured professorship of piano at the University of Toledo. He is remembered with great love by his former students.

Throughout his extensive musical career Tad Weed impressed everyone who heard him as a versatile and sensitive pianist who was comfortable in many musical contexts. He was an all-around musician; composer, arranger, musical director, accompanist, and teacher. But when he played the piano you could not imagine him on any other instrument: his melodic right-hand lines could be astonishingly fast and complex, but they were always anchored in shifting harmonies coming from the other side of the keyboard. When the time was right, both hands came together with ripe chords, and a powerful rhythmic drive. In all the years that we heard him play he never coasted, always passionately committed to the music, calling on a seemingly inexhaustible repertoire to create marvelous artistic evenings. He is sorely missed by his audience, students, and fellow musicians. He also left behind his wife Marla and his children Joshua, Jennifer, Angela and Mark.