By Nicole King
If you’ve been to see an After Midnight performance, one of the first things you’ll notice on stage is the vibraphone. The vibraphone (often called “vibes” for short) is a unique instrument that has only been around since the 20s, so you don’t see one very often. Even more unusual is to see someone who has full command over the complicated instrument. Rick Weingarten is the talented musician and vocalist who stands behind the vibes with After Midnight and makes it look easy. (It’s not easy.)
Rick lives in Westminster, CO with his wife and 15-month-old son. I recently spoke to him and he shared some stories about his past, how he came to play the vibes, his musical influences, and his visual art. (For the record, the high school stories are once again something that had to be edited for the blog. What is it about musicians and high school?)
I was born in Georgia. My father was an electrical engineer, basically a rocket scientist, so we traveled around a lot. I lived in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts … but I’m almost a Colorado native. I’ve been here for close to 40 years.
My parents were a big influence. My mom was from Puerto Rico and introduced me to all that great latin jazz music. My father is a classical music nut so that’s where I was exposed to lots of classical music. So I always loved music, but I was kind of a bad kid in high school. I got into a lot of trouble and wasn’t the most academic student. I didn’t play music in high school or junior high, no music at all. It was during my senior year in high school that I became interested in music.
I started out playing the drums. I was in a rock ‘n roll band when I was in my 20s and we went on the road. It was a three-piece band. When I was in high school, in my last year, I met a guy who was a good guitarist and we started a band with a bass player. The three of us got in my van and traveled around the midwest playing at bars and restaurants. It was okay for like a year or two in my 20s and then I was like, “Alright, I’m tired of this.” I also played in the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps around the same time. It was after that I decided to go to college and do it right.
I went to college at CU in Boulder. I didn’t even graduate from high school (because, you know, I was a bad kid). My mom, bless her soul, she said “It’s okay if you don’t graduate, but get your GED,” so I went down and I took the test and I got my GED. I was a few years older at the time than your average college student. I remember it was really tough because I had to take all the entrance exams and all that stuff, but I got in. I really applied myself in college because I was learning something I really wanted to learn.
One example of the difference between high school and college — about a week before graduation, the Dean of the College of Music called me into his office. I thought, “Oh no, what’s wrong? Did I do something wrong?” He said “Rick, I owe you an apology. You are the closest anyone has ever been to being on the Dean’s List without getting on the list. You were one one-hundredth of a point away from getting in and I can’t change the numbers but I’m sorry, so I apologize to you.”
When I was 16 or 17, one of my first jobs was working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I remember I was in the kitchen working when I heard something on the radio, and I thought “Wow, that’s so cool sounding, what is that?” And I found out it was the vibraphone. I think it was Lionel Hampton, and I remember thinking “That’s really cool I want to learn how to play that.” At that time I was interested in playing drums, but when I heard the vibraphone I knew what I wanted to do, so when I went to college that’s what I was focused on.
I always loved jazz, even when I didn’t really play music, just played drums and jammed. Rock ‘n roll and other types of music didn’t seem that vivid, but when I listened to jazz I saw all these really cool colors and it seems so much more elaborate and interesting to me, so I was drawn to that. And then I started listening to some people on the vibraphone like Milt Jackson and Bobbie Hutcherson. One of my dear friends who was a world renowned jazz pianist, Joe Bonner, used to play with Bobbie Hutcherson, so I actually got to meet him. I felt lucky that I got to play with Joe; former Colorado Governor Hickenlooper said that Joe Bonner was the greatest pianist he had ever heard.
I could list so many names of jazz musicians I’ve loved to listen to over the years. During the time when I was 17-20 I listened to people like Chick Corea. One of my biggest influences was Charlie Parker, who’s considered the father of jazz saxophone. I love the swing music we play with After Midnight but I also really love modern jazz. I’ve always liked Miles Davis, John Coltrane … more blue note or avant garde type of stuff. My own jazz quartet, we play more of those types of things.
My group is called The Good Vibes Quartet. We’ve done two recordings, played live on KUVO, we’ve been the warm up band for the Maynard Ferguson Big Band and the Don Byron Quintet. We try to really stretch out and do a lot of different things musically. We’ve done some things like the Beastie Boys, some Jimmy Hendrix, a little bit of everything — some funky stuff and rock ‘n roll.
Roger and I met in the marching band at college. At first I played drums with him in a band he had years ago and then we started noodling around with vibes and clarinet. He asked me if I wanted to get together and get through some Benny Goodman songs, some other jazz stuff. Percussionists had practice rooms so we would meet up for an hour two after school and just kind of mess around, try to play through some stuff.
There was a guy by the name of Fred Moldenhauer, and he loved Benny Goodman. He contacted Roger and said he wanted to start a band playing that music. I remember he came over on his motorcycle one day with all these recordings. He was a beginning bass player, but he got better as he went along. Fred got us some of our first gigs. We had a regular gig at the Bull & Bush, also playing with Gene Leverett. That’s how we met Mike (McCullough). Gene introduced us and Mike would sub for Gene. For years, we played at the Bull & Bush — every Sunday from 5-8pm. We’d earn $40 bucks a show. Fred passed away, but that’s how the whole thing got started.
With After Midnight, there’s one called Opus Three Quarters, I like playing that one. Also Lullaby of the Leaves. Some of the songs that we play are really complicated, and those are fun because they’re challenging, but some of the songs are more simple, and those are nice as well because you get to just relax and enjoy the music. It’s a nice contrast.
I think my favorite is the Avalon Ballroom — especially on New Year’s, you’ve got like 300 or 400 people dancing, doing a coordinated dance together. It’s so cool to watch them.
I play a lot at retirement communities and assisted living places. I enjoy it, although I don’t always get to play what I want. They want to hear the music they grew up with. You’ve got to play to the audience if you want to be asked back to do it again.
Up until the COVID thing hit, I was doing like six or seven of those a week, at least, sometimes two or three in one day. After the virus hit, all those places shut down. It’s slowly been picking up a bit more. They have me play from outside and people sit on their balconies.
The vibraphone is my main instrument, but I also play piano, drums, bongos, accordion, and a little bit of the flute. When I play for them I try to give them a variety of things. It lets me play all different types of music.
Benny Goodman, of course, but I also like Hiromi Uehara, a female pianist. She’s a total virtuoso, unbelievable. Also I like the Dave Holland Quintet, he’s a bass player. There’s just so many people. I like things other than jazz. I like music that most people would say, “What the heck is that?” I like Cecil Taylor — a lot of people think he’s banging on the piano, it’s really different. It’s not really melodic, I like the avant garde. I kind of like it all.
Some of the bigger names I’ve played with over the years include Pete Wernicke, James Dapogny, Jim Cullum, Ken Walker, Pat Bianci, Arte Lande, Lannie Garrett, and Joe Bonner.
I’m a visual artist as well as a musician. I love painting in oils when I have time. Recently I haven’t had time to do oil, so I’ve been doing more pencil work that’s easy to drop and come back to. I wish I had like three lifetimes, there are so many things I love to do — martial arts, camping, hiking, travel, cooking, meditating, art, chess. I’m one step away from getting my black belt in Kung Fu but I’m not too concerned about getting it. Bruce Lee once said that the only thing a belt is good for is holding up your pants.
I’ve got all these weird hobbies. Lately I’ve been into going into the woods, learning what to do with different types of plants, which ones you can eat, that kind of thing. I’m trying to learn how to speak Thai because my wife is from Thailand. It’s really a difficult language. It’s a guttural language, so it’s almost musical; you can say a word that’s the same but with different intonation they have different meanings.
I like good books. I love the classics, like Edgar Allen Poe, Dostoevsky, some of that kind of stuff. But I also love science fiction a lot — Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury. There’s so much great literature out there it’s hard to get to all of it. In general, I like to learn anything I can about almost any subject!