Hot Jazz Fiddler Aaron Weinstein Finds His Own Voice

And that's why we're still listening to it and enjoying it and playing it because it's such great material.

Q: Who were your early influences? Were they all violinists?

A: Early on it was violin players, at least in the beginning because I was dealing with a new music and with a difficult instrument. So, at first I was influenced by people like Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith and Svend Asmussen — what I see as kind of the Big Four of the great early pioneers of jazz violin.

Q: What about singers and other instrumentalists?

A: Well, those four violinists were playing with other great players of their time. So I was introduced to people like Zoot Sims and Lester Young and Django Reinhardt.

What's so wonderful about jazz is that it's not instrument-specific. It's basically a musical language. And it's a language that can be articulated on any instrument. So for that reason, I can and have learned as much if not more from saxophone players and trumpet players and guitar players than I have from violinists because it's not about the instrument. It's about the music. It's more about the players than the instrument.

Q: It sounds like you're saying that finding your own voice is the important thing, rather than merely what instrument you express yourself on?

A: Oh, yes, that's the end goal. The whole idea is to play exactly what is in your head at the moment that it pops into your head, which is a lifelong pursuit. That's really what I'm trying for and why I have always gravitated towards the more melodic players.

Q: Did your classical training, which didn't come until you were already in college, help or harm you as a hot jazz improviser?

A: It really opened up a whole other world to me to sit down with someone who has spent their life thinking about violin technique, and have them tell me what I'm doing wrong and why.

Sure, it helped. But I was a very stubborn student, which, I guess, might be expected because up until that point there were things that were working for me. So when the teacher would say, 'Aaron, you can't hold your bow that way,' I would say, 'Why not? Of course, I can.'

I had a wonderful teacher who'd then say, 'Well, you're right. You can hold your bow that way, but then you won't be able to do these 17 other things.' And she was absolutely right.

I took what I needed, what I wanted. I certainly could spend years and years learning about the violin. It's an endless study, but that training did open up my eyes.

Q: You sent a demo CD to John Pizzarelli who, perhaps a bit astonishingly, gave you a call back. What was that experience like?

A: John called me and was wildly encouraging. It happened in the evening, and earlier that day I had my wisdom teeth removed. So this was my first and last day on Vicodin, and I couldn't even put a coherent sentence together on the phone. I must have sounded like an insane person, but he was so encouraging, certainly more-than the music he heard warranted. But it meant so much to me.

Q: Where does your sense of humor come from?

A: I don't know. I can't really tell a joke well.

Q: Is your humorous patter between tunes a way to connect with the audience? And is it at all important to keep an audience entertained that way?

A: Most of the people who come to a concert want to have a good time. They want to be entertained. They want to leave feeling like they've had a nice time sitting in the seats. Any way that can be accomplished is fair game.

You can't just play the violin all night. You can, but it certainly alienates a lot people. And that's not my goal. Maybe if I do something in between songs to make them comfortable and enjoy themselves, they might be more open to listening to the music. Or maybe not.

Maybe they'll just kind of glaze over until the song ends. I don't know.

Q: There is the deadly serious school of jazz performance rooted in virtually ignoring the audience. What do you think of that?

A: I'm not a big subscriber of that. There are, after all, people sitting in front of you. Why are we going to pretend the situation is anything other than that? I don't understand.

Sometimes I see performers and during half of the songs, they're looking up at a balcony that doesn't exist. And I'm thinking who are they looking at? Are they counting the lights? I don't know.

Q: What's the story with your sartorial signatures of bow-tie and suit? You've even described yourself as a 'bow-tie activist.'

A: Well, 'bow-tie activist' is a little tongue-in-cheek. Just want to make sure you don't think I'm a complete crazy. The truth of the matter is that I do wear a bow-tie most days, even when I have nowhere to go. You have to put clothes on every day, even if you don't leave the house.

Violinist Aaron Weinstein presents "Have Strings Will Swing!," a program of hot jazz and American Songbook classics, on Friday, Oct. 25, at 8 p.m. at Japanalia Eiko, 11 Whitney St., Hartford. Tickets: $48 stage-side table seating; $28 general row seating; BYOB encouraged. Information: 860-232-4677.