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A Professor with 'Cuban Roots' in Jazz

Mark Weinstein is a master jazz flutist who was once a master jazz trombonist.

In 1966, he played trombone on Cuban Roots, a prized cult classic which blended Afro-Cuban folkloric music with jazz. Soon afterward, he left the world of music to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy, and later went into teaching.

But Weinstein never fully stopped playing music. Now a flute player, he has recently released a new album, Con Alma. He joins Scott Simon to talk about his long career and his new record.

When Cuban Roots was first released — in a poorly recorded pressing of only 500 copies — it was received with commercial neglect, Weinstein says. Though it became a highly influential, heavily bootlegged album, its initial reception spurred him to quit the life of a professional musician and enter academia. He remains a professor at New Jersey's Montclair State University today.

He has since taught himself the flute, which he calls "a relief" compared with the trombone.

"The trombone is a very difficult instrument," Weinstein says. "It can't move very quickly through the changes, and so you have to have things all planned out. Whereas the flute is just the sweetest, most fluent, most lyrically ambiguous instrument. I love the flute."

Born to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Weinstein isn't the most likely practitioner of Latin jazz. He does say, however, that his background led him to music.

"I was also raised in public housing," Weinstein says. "And the two ways out of public housing is to be a boxer or a jazz player. And I was too wimpy to be a boxer, so I decided to be a musician."

Weinstein has expanded his reach to other folkloric traditions beyond Afro-Cuban music — he has recorded an album in the Ukraine and an album of Brazilian jazz, and is planning an album fusing tango music and jazz. This, of course, comes in addition to gigging in straight-ahead bebop contexts.

"I don't want to be stereotyped," Weinstein says. "I don't want to be thought of as a Latin player. I'm a jazz flute player."

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