Dave Weckl: On Time

Scott Mitchell By

Sign in to view read count
Dave Weckl hit the New York fusion scene in the early 1980s. It didn't take long for this talented drummer from Saint Charles, Missouri to get recognized and hired by artists like singers Madonna, Robert Plant, Diana Ross, and Paul Simon, as well as guitarist/vocalist {George Benson}}. Weckl toured with the keyboardist Chick Corea's Elektric Band from 1985 to 1991. He then recorded and toured with guitarist Mike Stern. He currently tours regularly with guitarists Oz Noy and Chuck Loeb, and bassist Chris Minh Doky. Recognized by Modern Drummer magazine as one of the top 25 drummers of all time, this master musician shows no signs of slowing down.

All About Jazz: What kind of a year has 2012 been for you?

Dave Weckl: Honestly, the years have all melded together for quite some time now. My road travel has been over the top the last few years with no sign of letting up anytime soon, this year being no exception. I'm thankful for the work, but a bit tired. As my recently deceased, wonderful friend/teacher Freddie Gruber once said, "Get it while you can!" So, I've had three EU tours with different groups, USA gigs, lots of work in my studio, and we're only in July.

I've been on tour with Mike Stern and Oz Noy so far this year, so that has and is taking up most of my time. At home I continue to work on various things in the studio, both my own projects and remote recordings for other clients. I guess you could say I'm working on staying healthy so I can keep up this ridiculous schedule.

I have a drum camp (Drum Fantasy Camp), with some other great players/teachers, and a major drum event in Australia. In the fall I've had some down time with family as I continued to work on projects in my studio, , including a "Single Series" that I have for download on my website. . I currently have three songs there that can be downloaded, with choices of packages containing play-alongs for each instrument on the song. The plan is to do more of these projects, time permitting. I am also working on a possible new project with Jay Oliver, my longtime friend and the first keyboard player in my band. More to come on that. I also go racing a bit. I've been on tour most of the fall and a lot of December in the States and EU with the Nomads, a nice group with Chris Minh Doky on bass, George Whitty on keys, and Dean Brown on guitar. My web site tour page is a great source of info about me and what I'm doing, where I'm touring.

AAJ : What goes through your mind when you look back at where you started and where you are now?

DW : I take a deep breath, it's been a long, great journey that thankfully continues. I started playing drums when I was seven. I'm 52 and still at it, full on. I feel fortunate and thankful to have had and continue to have the career I have enjoyed, and still healthy and "young" enough to play the way I like to play.

AAJ : Who were your earliest musical influences?

DW : Besides my father (played piano as a hobby) and rock bands like The Monkees and some others, I was turned on to jazz at an early age from my dad. [Drummer] Jack Sperling (with [clarinetist] Pete Fountain) was my introduction to swing, then my dad brought home a Buddy Rich record and he became an obsession, followed by Steve Gadd and other great drummers. I was turned on to the music of a lot of great artists because of the drummers playing with them, such as Chick Corea, Brecker Brothers, Herbie Hancock, and all the big bands of the time; Maynard [Ferguson], [Stan] Kenton, Clark Terry, Thad Jones Mel Lewis Remembered—and, of course, my favorite, Buddy [Rich]'s big band. During this time I was meeting kids my age with the same passion, like Tom and Ray Kennedy, Jay Oliver and others. Together we sort of influenced each other to learn, play and progress.

AAJ : How did your musical influences grow and or change over time?

DW : As I was exposed to more things in life, and different musicians, I was exposed to different music. I met musicians from different parts of the world as I moved around, both in a living and touring sense, which enlightened me to all the music the world had to offer. That still happens, by the way.

AAJ : What artists and bands do you enjoy listening to today?

DW : Well, I listen to a wide variety of music. I love Latin music, and I'm still a fan of older R&B, and the music I listened to as a kid. My 15 year-old daughter exposes me (not willingly sometimes) to all things current, from pop, rock, etc... but she has also been exposed from a very early age to a wide variety, so she also likes a lot of different things. I really don't specify too much what I listen to, and sometimes, because my ears are pretty much always on music for the job; "silence is golden."

AAJ : How old were you when you played your first musical instrument? What instrument was that?

DW : I was six or seven. Guitar, it didn't last long.

AAJ : When did you start on drums?

DW : Right after that at seven or eight years of age I started with box lids and pan lids from my mother's cookware, which you can imagine didn't go over to well. So my parents got me a cheap drum set to beat on, which got set up in my dad's TV work room, and eventually moved to the living room. Yes, the living room, which is where they stayed set up for years. I played with my dad on occasion, and had behind me the huge turn table/stereo system that I could crank loud enough to play to records.

AAJ : Can you outline the progression of your skills on the drums?

DW : Not completely, that would take me quite a while because it's been so much study and practice over the years, that to retrace it all would be monumental. Let's just say that I had a burning desire to learn, and I constantly listened and copied who and what I liked. And I spent a hell of a lot of time practicing, and playing with other musicians from a very early age. I always strived to be very versatile, to try and have a grasp on different styles, sounds and textures, and be able to fit in to different musical situations appropriately.

I also went through a few great teachers when I was young (Bob Matheny and Joe Buerger) in St Louis MO that helped to mold me into the player I am today. During high school I practiced a lot, listened a lot, and the same in my early college years. On the east coast in College (Univ. of Bridgeport CT), with drum teachers Ed Soph and Randy Jones, and then privately with the late Gary Chester, which was some of the most profound study of my life. I was then on the road with no private study for probably 10-12 years until I started to see Freddie Gruber, which was life-changing for me, as far as how I approached playing the drums, and still, for the most part, the approach I use today.

AAJ : What was your first big break as an professional musician?

DW : I would have to say when I was playing on the East Coast with a band called Nite Sprite (while in college). We got a gig in New York City at the Breckers' club, called Seventh Ave South.. I invited [drummer] Peter Erksine to come and see the gig (had been in touch with him) and he thought enough of what I was doing to recommend me for a gig he couldn't do. That was with a band called French Toast, which later became [pianist] Michel Camillo's band. Anthony Jackson was the bassist, and we hit it off great. AJ started to recommend me for everything, including a tour with Simon and Garfunkel in 1983. Paul actually came to a gig I was doing (in that same club a year or two later) and hired me for the summer tour in the States and EU. That was really the beginning of my career on a professional level in NYC. Then, in 1984 I was playing with [guitarist] Bill Connors and [bassist] Tom Kennedy at The Bottom Line in NYC, when Chick Corea came to hear me, after being recommended to do so by [saxophonist] Michael Brecker and others. The rest is history, as they say.

AAJ : Do you remember your first paying job as a drummer? How old were you?

DW : Not exactly sure. I'll be safe and say it was when I was 16 and working quite a few nights a week with a pop band while in high school.

AAJ : Was there a specific moment or time in your life when you realized that you had a gift and the skill set and competency to play with the best? When did you know that you could hold your own?

DW : Not sure of that either but I most certainly had made up my mind by the age of 13 that playing drums is what I would do... nothing else. I was also quite a sports fanatic, and played organized baseball and soccer, but quit all that by high school as I realized I didn't have time for both sports and music, and I knew I was better at the drums than baseball I think by the time I was 15 or 16 I was playing well enough to know, or at least think, I could really do this at a high level with the best in the business.

AAJ : How would you describe your playing style and approach to music?

DW : My playing depends on the music being played at any given moment, to try and support and fit in musically with the style of that music. I guess my approach would be considered precise, consistent, solid, and supportive. Some say technical. For me I just play what feels and sounds right to me, with the intent to always make it feel good. I was always challenged and inspired by technically precise players with a great feel as well; it's what turns me on, so that's what I practiced, and how I've always tried to play, to bring that same gratification to myself and others. The approach though, is very Zen0like, in the sense that I try to force nothing. Through the studies with Freddie I learned how to allow the laws of physics to help me play, to find the path of least resistance, and work together with my instrument (stick design, cymbal design, head choices, tuning, ergonomic set up) to achieve the desired touch and power with physical ease.

AAJ : What was the nicest and most personal compliment that you've received as a musician?

DW : From a musician I was playing with (supporting) who said, and I quote: "I play better and can get to my stuff easier when you play drums in my band."

AAJ : Do you recall your introduction to the world of jazz?

DW : My father introduced me to Dixieland when I was very young and then playing with him from time to time in the living room on piano and drums.

AAJ : What were the most challenging projects that you worked on and why?

DW : I have found myself in many challenging projects. I guess some of my years and recordings with Chick Corea would stand out as some of the most challenging. There were times when we had very little time to rehearse some of the complex music he would compose for a recording. We had to learn and own it very quickly, then record it. Sometimes all in the same day! My own band projects were very challenging as well, as I produced and mixed them all, so a lot of hats had to be worn.

AAJ : What were the most rewarding projects that you worked on and why?

DW : The Chick projects again would stand out. The early days of my career with Michel Camilo's band, with Anthony Jackson, [trumpeter] Lew Soloff, saxophonist Chris Hunter, [percussionist] Sammy Figueroa were some really great moments live and on record. The tour I did with Simon and Garfunkel (60,000-seat stadiums tour). My first record, Masterplan (GRP, 1990), was very rewarding too, because it was the real first statement as a co-composer and co-producer.

AAJ : Which albums and projects are you most proud of and why?

DW: ; I think the live CD I recorded with my own band in 2003, Live and Very Plugged In (Concord, 2003) is one of my most accomplished works as a player, producer and mixing engineer.

AAJ : The desert island question....If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring 10 albums, which albums would you bring?

DW : I would want more than albums. But probably something from all genres: classical, jazz, rock, R&B, Latin, etc.

AAJ : What gives you the most joy out of playing?

DW: ; Playing together with great musicians of the same mentality, to make good music together. Being at a venue or stage where the sound is perfect, the audience is appreciative and receptive, and everything for me is working physically and mentally on '10.' That happens rarely, but it does happen. And when it does, that is the pure joy of it!

AAJ : What is the brand and model of your current drum set?

DW : I've played and endorsed Yamaha drums since 1983. I currently play their Phoenix line the most, but also play their Oak and other models on tours.

AAJ : Is there a story behind how you chose your drums over others?

DW: ; In the '80s, a lot of my favorite players were playing Yamaha. It was the sound I was after. Yamaha approached me when I got the Simon and Garfunkel tour. I said yes, and I am still there almost 30 years later.

AAJ : What is the brand of your cymbals?

DW : I play Sabian cymbals. I was given the opportunity, in early 2000, to create the sound and feel of how I wanted my cymbals to be, and helped develop a couple lines of cymbals with them, the HHX Evolution and Legacy lines. Both have my signature stamped on the bottom of the bell to denote the "signature" aspect of the lines. I'm very happy and proud of this creation. They sound great and are one of Sabian's best-selling lines, still to this day. Other companies are trying to somewhat copy what we did, which I'm flattered by. It's quite common now to see holes in cymbals, but with the HHX Evolution Ozone, part of the original Evolution line, We did it first, and it sounds like no other cymbal... it's awesome.

AAJ : How many pieces are in your current drum set?

DW : Depends on the gig. My standard fusion setup Has one kick, two of my signature Yamaha snares (13" and 14"), four toms and a lot of cymbals. I like the melodic and tonal aspect of percussion, so I like to have lots of tones and colors to choose from. If I play a jazz gig for example, I would use smaller kit with less drums and cymbals to more assimilate the stylistic sound of the music.

AAJ : Is there anyone out there that you would like to work with if given the chance?

DW : Sting and Herbie Hancock come to mind.

AAJ : The creative process, can you describe your typical approach to composing and creating new music?

DW : It depends on the kind of music I want to write. It also takes practice to be in the correct mental state to compose music, which is hard to do sometimes when you're constantly working for others, which has been the case for me over the last few years.

My approach when I write for my own projects usually goes like this; I first spend some time thinking about the vibe of the project, then the song concept within it. I usually like to co-compose with members of the project or band, that way we can both (or all) put our heads and strong points together in the process, but that takes the right chemistry. Sometimes I will start on my own with the drum groove concept I want, and if I hear a bass line that suggests a certain vibe or harmony, I'll put that in, then offer that to the others and start jamming on that idea. The others may do a similar thing from their perspective. We record everything we do, then listen back to it and see if there is anything there to grab as a start point for melodies, or sections of the song.

This approach has worked well in the past, with the majority of my bands' music done in this manner. Sometimes I will also try and write something on my own, but my harmonic limitations and technical skills at the keyboard limit me and slow me down, and therefore are not as interesting for me.

AAJ : When you are playing live and find yourself in a \"creative zone or groove, are you thinking about the notes and changes or are things just flowing naturally?

DW : That really takes a lot of analyzing, and is one of the hardest things to talk about and answer. There are lots of variables live that play into what I'm thinking about. If I'm free, in one of those perfect scenarios, I am listening to the music as a whole, like I'm not playing it, so that the outcome is spontaneous composition; it is exactly what I would want to hear as I would listen back to it if recorded, and be able to say, "Yeah, that feels and sounds great," and has all the aspects of what I like to hear in that moment .

AAJ : To date, which artists and contacts in the industry have been the most helpful to you and have guided you in the right direction?

DW : I would have to say everyone that I have come in contact with that I have had a positive relationship with over my long career has helped to direct me in one way or another.

AAJ : What are your favorite venues to play?

DW : Wow, well, there are a few. In the States I would say Yoshi's in Oakland (probably number one in the country for me for various reasons), The Catalina Bar and Grill in LA, The Blue Note in Tokyo, the Culturehouse Viften in Rødovre Denmark—there a few clubs in Denmark that are really nice, names and places escape me at the moment, but they know how to do it over there—to name a few that stand out.

Generally I like bigger clubs that have a great sound system and can be used for all the instruments for fidelity, not volume. I am not a fan of small clubs, at least not with the music I mostly play, which tends to be high energy fusion, with generally healthy stage volume. Acoustic jazz can be nice in small clubs, or "unplugged" type gigs, but high volume bands usually don't work well in small places, either for the band playing or the listening audience.

AAJ : As you progress as an artist and a composer, does the creative process associated with writing new music, become easier or harder?

DW : A little of both. The more you do something the better you do it, and the easier it comes... but that also usually means you fall into your way of doing it, so your composing and playing can sound the same. I guess it's the number one challenge for any artist is to be different within those natural parameters of doing it like you know how and like to do it.

AAJ : How important has the internet and social media been to you as an artist?

DW : It's been, and continues to be a love/hate relationship. I've always tried to stay up on, and learn about technology, and use it to my advantage where possible; the internet being no different. I've had a website for years, and use it for promotion and sales of my products within my career, same with Facebook, and use it all to keep interested fans up to date with what's going on with me and my career. I also use it to search out and discover and learn more about great musicians from the past and present.

The downside of the internet is that it can create a terrible distraction. It's a time hog, first of all. We all know how much time we can spend surfing, It also, of course, has become a source of illegal and free downloads, and can tend, I think, to serve as enough entertainment for some people to the point that they don't go out anymore and support live music, or buy it. This is dangerous, and although I think a lot of people know how dangerous it is, and therefore still come out and support the live gigs and buy the CDs or purchase downloads, I worry some about the younger generation especially. I find that a lot of young people have trouble focusing on anything for too long of a period, which of course is necessary to become a musician or anything really that demands time and practice. I think the internet, and other forms of current technology are somewhat to blame.

AAJ : How difficult is it and time-consuming to stay on top of your social media responsibilities?

DW : I don't have a manager, so it can be difficult to maintain everything. I do, however, have a marketing manager as it were, who handles my website updates. I do some posting here and there on my Facebook fan page, but he helps there too, when I don't have the time. It's hard enough for me to stay up on business email, and I try to spend as much time as possible staying in touch with loved ones while gone on the road as well.

AAJ : How much time do you spend practicing?

DW : I am working so much that I have very little time for practicing. With all the touring, the body needs rest when I come off the road. I am usually recording when home as well, but if I do have down time, I do what I call "maintenance practice," which is basically do exercises that provide practice for independence, stamina, and spontaneous creation all at once.

AAJ : Who are your jazz heroes?

DW : [Trumpeter] Clifford Brown, [saxophonist] John Coltrane, [trumpeter Miles Davis, [saxophonists] Charlie Parker and Michael Brecker, [drummers] Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, PPhilly Joe Jones and Buddy Rich, as well as Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock, to name a few.

AAJ : Who are your rock heroes?

DW : John Bonham.

AAJ : What do you do for fun?

DW : Hang out with family, drive my car (a high-performance Chevy Corvette) fast on a race track, watch movies, take photos, cook, and exercise.

AAJ : How important is chemistry with fellow band members when you are on tour?

DW : Very important, as with any relationship. It's especially important on the stage, both musically and from a personal vibe standpoint. Musically, when there is an agreement of time, feel, musical direction, you have positive chemistry. From a personal standpoint, there's nothing worse than someone vibing on stage to the point where it affects the show, whether it's a musical/stage issue, or worse, bringing a personal issue on stage and allowing it to affect your playing and general vibe towards everyone else.

AAJ : Did reading music come easy to you?

DW : I would say so, I had a lot of exposure to reading both in grade school band, high school jazz band, and in my private studies. So basic reading was learned in school, while advanced drum set reading was taught by my private teachers, and then getting a good dose of it in school and other big bands.

AAJ : How has jazz influenced your life and music?

DW : It has given me the inspiration and knowhow to express myself through my instrument.

AAJ : How would you describe yourself as a person?

DW : Honest, Serious, not influenced by beliefs. Generally good-willed, but difficult at times because I want it my way.

AAJ : How would you describe yourself as a musician?

DW : Honest, supportive, sensitive, consistent.

AAJ : How do you relax?

DW : Cook some food and watch a movie. Relax with loved ones.

AAJ : Is music the universal language?

DW : Yes...no translating required.

AAJ : What was your most embarrassing experience on stage?

DW : Circa 1990—a 70 piece orchestra, taped TV performance in front of an audience of a couple thousand. The musical director and star/lead singer wanted two different tempos. No one knew who to follow. It was a train wreck. We stopped and started over. I stopped first, so of course, everyone looked at me.

AAJ : What were some of your special on stage moments and memories?

DW : Every time that I can play what I want to play, if having a good time with the people I am playing with and seeing the audience really get it is always a very special moment. But, playing with Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta at the same time was one of the most special moments in my career. Also, I guess the first show with Simon and Garfunkel in a stadium. It's quite special to hear 70,000 people screaming at you.

AAJ : Describe a typical day in your life when you are on tour.

DW : Awake anywhere from 3:30 to 7 AM, drive to airport, deal with all the hassles of airports/flying, take two flights at least, go to hotel and try and sleep for an hour, go to setup sound check (I go an hour before everyone else to get the drums right), play the gig (most times two sets/show), go back to hotel and do it over again the next day, sometimes for as long as a month, with very few days off.

AAJ : Describe a typical day in your life when you are home.

DW : No typical days at home. Lots to do, catch up on, and make up for lost time when I was away. But I do get into a regimen when home. Every other day I get up and go directly to the gym, then usually back home for office work/email. If I have studio work I head there next. I usually try to finish by 8 or 9 pm so I can cook something and watch a movie. That's when it's pretty leisurely though. If I'm really working hard on a project with a deadline in the studio, I spend a lot more time there than anywhere else.

AAJ : How do you balance your home life and your professional life?

DW : The best I can.

AAJ : What is the most difficult aspect of your work?

DW : Being away from loved ones. And, the travel.... every aspect of it.

AAJ : When you are playing the drums live are there any significant differences between jazz, rock, fusion, or blues sets?

DW : Most of the music I play is either jazz/rock fusion, or occasionally straight-ahead jazz, or maybe a Latin jazz gig, every so often. So yes, the fusion kit is mentioned above. The jazz kit I will generally use a typical jazz set up, of small 18" bass drum, 12" and 14" toms and a snare, with less cymbals, but more rides than crashes. For the Latin gigs I use a timbale in place of the standard floor tom placement (and move it to the left side), and put bells and blocks all over the kit, and will also use a small bass drum.

AAJ : When I grew up people used to say that all jazz drummers could play rock but not all rock drummers can play jazz. Is there any truth to that?

DW : Maybe a bit. The guys who can really play rock (and that's all they do) are well-versed in doing that, especially from a dynamic standpoint. There are few or no subtleties when playing rock, whereas jazz is all about the touch and finesse of it. I guess you could say some jazz/fusion players can crossover to rock-oriented music a little easier than vica versa. But the other big aspect is feel. Jazz is based in 12/8, triplets; there just isn't a whole lot of triplets going in rock music, so that combined with the softer touch aspect I think makes it difficult for most rock players to play jazz. Then there's the whole understanding of the style and the vocabulary.

AAJ : It is not a secret that you are ranked as one of the best drummers on the planet. Have you ever found yourself in a position where the musicians that you had to take it down a notch or two because the skill level of the other musicians were not as high as yours?

DW : Sometimes, but that is just being musically responsible. And, if I ever have to take it down a notch it's usually in my soloing. But it has also taught me to be able to play things that are identifiable to others. I always tell my students, that if you are the only one on stage having a good time with and understanding what you are playing, there's a problem.

Photo Credit: Scott Mitchell

Post a comment


View events near Los Angeles
Jazz Near Los Angeles
Events Guide | Venue Guide | Get App | More...

Shop Amazon



All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.