Lesson the Load

Mighty Max Weinberg strafes an old high school. Now that's class.

The idea for the Rock Ensemble hit him after he grew tired of doing nothing but guitar courses each day. "Like Max said, everybody was doing this outside of school. I thought, Why not do it in school? When the five classes of guitar got a little old, I needed something to shoot me up, so I suggested a rock group. [Lichter] said go ahead." Since then, a number of his students have gone on to professional music careers.

He still teaches classical guitar, which, in conjunction with the Rock Ensemble program, he says, "gives me the full spectrum of musical involvement." He calls his guitar students "my classical guitar terrorists, because they look like beach bums, long curly hair, and they sit down and start playing Bach."

On this afternoon, however, it's time for Bach to roll over. Mighty Max has concluded his seminar. He's recommended Zen and the Art of Archery as a way to learn how to "slow time" and Legal Protection for the Creative Musician for career guidance. He's answered questions: yes, his family supported his musical dreams; do hire a lawyer and beware of extended deals. He's said that playing music keeps you young; mentioned the inequitable distribution of wealth in places such as India; and advised, "Do what you're gonna do. When you least expect it, someone like Bruce might walk into your life." So now it's time to jam.

The Rock Ensemble rehearsal room, which includes an eight-track recording studio and a bunch of equipment Burris says is "right out of King Tut's tomb," is about to rock. Guitarist John Ospina and bassist Dameon Maizler, along with a handful of singers and two keyboardists and a conga player, are in the mood to play "Do It Again," the old Steely Dan hit. A student shows Weinberg the drum pattern, and then Mighty Max fills the room with thunder. Then teen-agers and the legend also work out on a couple of others, and despite a few technical difficulties, it turns out to be quite a show. At one point Weinberg throws a break to Ospina and Maizler and the kids read it perfectly. During a drum solo, Weinberg's sticks fly so fast they blur, and the tricks he pulls out of his high hat are momentarily startling, freezing reality during "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)" with unreal cymbal clashes even though his eyes are riveted to Ospina's fret board. Call this the A Street Band, as in Grade A.

"The kids felt that difference of playing with a pro," Burris says afterward. "This is the same guy who played in front of 100,000 people. It was a gas for me and them. He was into what they were playing, too. The big thing they really felt was this communication between him and them as performers and as aspiring musicians listening to one who made it."

For his part, Weinberg says, "Doug is dealing with his own obstacles. He gives his love of music in his own way to the students, and I think that's very cool." Downright inspiring. Heroes are everywhere, but sometimes you have to look for them.

While the students surrounded Weinberg for autographs, follow-up questions, and small talk, Burris, on the other side of the room, took aside publicist Susan Brustman. "I told her," Burris says, "what a neat thing we have here. And the thing I'm most disappointed in is that no one knows about it. People need to know about it. It's very inspiring. When you hear these kids play that music, I mean, what could be better than that?

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