Jazz Notes: Paul Weeden, thumb master 

click to enlarge Weeden at Indy Jazz Fest in 2002. Photo by Mark Sheldon.
  • Weeden at Indy Jazz Fest in 2002. Photo by Mark Sheldon.

The passing of jazz guitarist Paul Weeden earlier this month in Norway, his adopted home for over two decades, prompts us to look closer at the career of an unsung local legend.

Some locals may remember Weeden's early years in Indy, when he had a close relationship with guitarist Wes Montgomery. What's generally unknown, even among jazz fans, is that Weeden and Montgomery together developed the unique technique of playing the guitar with one's thumb.

Montgomery went on to refine his guitar technique while remaining, for the most part, in Indy.

Weeden moved to Cleveland and went on to attend music schools in Philadelphia and New York. He worked in clubs with a trio — comprised of himself, organist Don Patterson and drummer Billy James — that backed up saxophonists Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Rusty Bryant. He even put in time with the Count Basie band.

Unlike Montgomery, Weeden was comfortable playing the role of a sideman. I asked Weeden's son, Ronald, why his dad didn't seek fame or the leadership of a group as Wes did.

"He enjoyed the music, he enjoyed teaching and he spent a great deal of time over in Europe doing so," Ronald Weeden said. "In his later years, he looked back on it and said "I should have done this and I should have done that."

Weeden was a sensitive artist deeply passionate about jazz. Like many other Afro-American jazz artists of his era, he left the States and relocated to Europe, where he avoided discrimination on the basis of his skin color or choice of profession. His first stop was Sweden, and he eventually ended up in Norway.

A prolific composer and teacher of jazz to music students in Scandinavia, Weeden held jazz seminaries and concerts throughout Europe. Before he left the States, Weeden recorded 16 or more albums as a sideman with various jazz artists. I asked Ronald Weeden if his dad ever talked about his recording sessions.

"The greatest ones in his opinion he ever played in were the jam sessions where the artist would just come in and play," Ronald Weeden replied. "They may have done a gig all night long and they would come in play into the wee hours of the morning."

Weeden recorded an additional 20 albums after moving to Norway and was preparing to record his first album as a vocalist when he passed.

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