L.A. session player Willie Waldman brings his musical side-project to Breckenridge

by Andy Stonehouse Summit Daily News

Breckenridge – And now, my friends it’s time to test your big-time music industry connections: What did Snoop Dogg get you for Christmas?

The answer is easy for Los Angeles-based horn player Willie Waldman, one of the fortunate circle to be included on Snoop’s holiday gift list – he received a fetching bowler hat, partially out of respect for years of work on the laconic West Coast rapper’s recordings.

This is not to say Waldman, whose trumpet playing also figures in recordings by Wu-Tang Clan, Warren G. and the late 2Pac Shakur, necessarily runs in the gats-and-gangstas company of L.A.’s hip-hop heavyweights.

Instead, the seasoned session player gets the biggest kicks working with his own, constantly changing jammy jazz ensemble, the Willie Waldman Project (which comes to Sherpa & Yeti’s on Sunday).

The group, featuring Ross Rice on keyboards, former Bobby Womack guitarist Woody Aplanalp and drummer Dan Moore (a veteran recording with the Smashing Pumpkins), are out on the road with a stellar mix of sounds that completely defy categorization.

“We’re mixing up everything from Ozzy covers to stuff from ‘Bitches Brew,’ plus a bit of King Sunny Ade-style Afro-pop… something for the hippie chicks to dance to,” Waldman said.

Genre jumping is nothing new for the performer. In addition to his own musical project, Waldman’s also an integral part of Banyan, the jazzy world music ensemble put together by Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins. And then there’s the gigs he lands to pay the bills.

“I’ve just been playing the the ‘Ally McBeal’ TV band, which involves a lot of sitting around just to be on screen for 15 seconds. But it’s still a great check – I probably make more in one day there than I will on this entire tour.”

But the Willie Waldman Project is definitely a labor of love… and a chance for the seasoned player to get back to his earlier musical roots.

Born in Southern California, Waldman grew up just east of Chicago and began playing trumpet at 7. Later, he began playing with the award-winning Chesterton, IN high school marching band and landed a scholarship at Memphis State University.

After college, Waldman began playing gigs at Memphis’ legendary Beale Street bars and found work with Memphis musical giant Herman Green and his band the Green Machine and, eventually, a jazz-rock fusion act called FreeWorld.

Waldman’s connections to the L.A. rap scene began innocently enough when he moved to California in 1994 and met up with producer David Aron, who was working on Snoop Doggy Dogg’s new Death Row Records CD.

Waldman was brought on board to add some brass to the CD, and connection led to work with everyone from 2Pac, K-Ci & JoJo, Xzibit and even Salt & Pepa. He also befriended Perry Farrell and Perkins and worked on their post-Jane’s projects, including the original Banyan CD.

Nowadays, Waldman jumps between the frequently tense world of Death Row Records (whose owner, Marion “Suge” Knight, is out of jail and back at work) and the more laid-back, jamming jazz-funk of Banyan and his own project. It’s all a bit schizophrenic, but it seems to work. Best of all, he says the rap posse tends to treat him like a pro.

“I just did some work with the Boo Ya Tribe, which made up of all these 300 pound Samoans… I start playing ‘Taps’ and you hear a bunch of gunfire on the track. And now I’m doing parts for all of these people, including Sisqo. But I just act like myself when I’m around guys like that, and they’re more cool with that than all the white guys who try to act like hip-hop stars.”

During this winter’s tour with the Project, Waldman’s also traveling with an unconventional guest – professional lifeguard and artist Norton Wisdom, who paints on stage while the band plays, apparently inspired by the music.

“Norton’s totally Mr. Avant Garde. He paints on clear plastic with lights behind it and does all these medieval scenes with minotaurs and mythological creatures 0 and that give the music an interesting visual aspect.”

The fully multimedia Willie Waldman Project plays at Sherpa & Yeti’s at 10 p.m. on Sunday

Andy Stonehouse may be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245 or [email protected].