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Dave Weckl: The Cymbal of Excellence

Jim Worsley By

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Attention to details and impeccable standards coupled with a desirous curiosity and a wealth of talent have served Dave Weckl well. The savvy and astute musician has meticulously traversed the jazz and fusion world over the past few decades. Weckl is on a very short list when the topic of drumming icons is broached. Perhaps best known for his work with Chick Corea, Mike Stern, and Oz Noy. Weckl is in constant motion both behind the kit and in his daily life. Amid performing, recording, producing, and composing, his time and effort into his workshops and clinics is tireless.

Asked to do an interview, Weckl had one request. He wanted to present All About Jazz with the most comprehensive answers possible to our questions. To accomplish this I emailed him the questions and waited to hear back from him. To say it was worth the wait is well understated. It should come as no surprise that he took the time to research much of the information to make sure it was accurate and to a timeline. A veritable feast for drummers and other musicians, this is a fascinating read for any jazz fan. It is presented in Weckl's own narrative.

All About Jazz: A small boy growing up in the Midwest is drawn to rhythmically banging on things. Decades later he is at the top of the profession, one of the best drummers in the world, and his name is in the conversation when discussing the finest drummers in jazz history. Is much of this beyond your wildest expectations?

Dave Weckl: Honestly, I don't really think about it too much. Most of what you ask about is up to everyone else but me, as far as conversations, reviews, and comments. I just continue to do what I've always done, which is practice, play, and try to stay at the top of MY OWN game, and I'll do that for as long as I can. That is all I am in control of, so that is my responsibility.

I will say I am flattered if some folks think or say the positive things they do. It's of course nice to receive positive thoughts and comments from people that listen to me.

AAJ: Who were the drummers and/or other musicians that you listened to early in life that influenced you?

DW: SO many! Although I never thought about it, I'd probably have to say that the recently late, great Hal Blaine is one, because he was likely on a lot of music that I was listening and playing to as a kid, so he was unknowingly a big influence and unknown teacher. When I started paying attention to the drummers on records, after my dad turned me on to his Pete Fountain collection, the great Jack Sperling became another silent mentor. His playing on all those early 60's Fountain recordings is stellar. Not to mention his drum sound! I listened to and copied everything I could from Jack. He really helped me develop my early Jazz/Swing chops.

My dad then brought home a Buddy Rich record (at age 12 or 13), and that catapulted me into my next stage of learning and obsession. I got every BR record I could find after that initial gift, and tried my hardest to learn and play what BR played... more or less impossible of course, but it was a very heavy positive inspiration that really made me listen and practice. A LOT!

Next were more big band and fusion records; Because of my High School big band 'career' (we had an award winning Jazz Ensemble at Francis Howell HS in Weldon Springs MO), and playing lots of charts from all the big bands, Peter Erskine became an influence early on due to his tenure with Stan Kenton, and then Maynard Ferguson. Billy Cobham's Spectrum and Crosswinds were on the turntable quite a bit as well. This would mark my first time knowingly hearing the incomparable Michael Brecker. A few Brecker Brothers records followed, also Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters Band/recordings (Harvey Mason and Mike Clark).

Then circa 1976, Tom Kennedy's brother, the late/great Ray Kennedy, who was a wonderful, beautiful pianist and lovely person, played something for me on his car stereo cassette player in the parking lot of a concert we went to see at 'Grants Farm' in St Louis, maybe a Maynard or Buddy concert, don't recall. What I do remember is he played me something I had never heard the likes of previously. It was either Chick Corea's Madhatter or Leprechaun recording, with Steve Gadd on drums. Enter phase 3 of my learning/listening obsession !

Other fusion/jazz records infiltrated, like Lee Ritenour, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and because of my love for Big Bands, Louie Bellson and Roy Burns were also HUGE influences and inspirations back then. I also always enjoyed great vocal music, whether it be jazz, rock or funk, as they sometimes had 'the studio guys' on their records, so Al Jarreau (Gadd and Jeff Porcaro), Gino Vannelli (Graham Lear, Casey Sheuerell, Mark Carney, Vinnie Colaiuta.), Level 42 (Phil Gould). and Gary Husband), and bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power were also in heavy rotation, as were different rock bands. I really had quite an extensive play list and cassette collection (always had a killer stereo in the car).

There's one other guy too ... John J. DiMartino ... John was playing the local St Louis music scene in the early to mid '70s, and I was lucky enough to see/hear him A LOT (thanks to my mom and uncle taking me, I was 13!). I also took a lesson or two from him. I credit him for my foot technique as it stands today, and other aspects of playing the MUSIC. The group he was in, Pieces Triangle, was an important part of my early development. My first teachers, Bob Matheny and Joe Buerger in St. Louis, MO, were also a huge part of my early growth and development.

I would say that these people mentioned here, had the most impact in my early stages. Later, in college, I was turned onto a lot of new and different music (for me), be bop/jazz players like Tony Williams, Philly Joe Jones, Jo Jones, Max Roach, Jimmy Cobb, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Al Foster, and Jack DeJohnette; Different big bands like Basie, Duke, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Gil Evans; more fusion like Weather Report, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, to mention a few. And then the rock guys I never really payed as much attention to, like Bonham, Ringo, Moon, Mitchel, Ian Paice, again, to name a few.

AAJ:I know that the Stan Kenton band camps were instrumental(no pun intended) in learning your craft and shaping your style. Your long time friend and band mate, Tom Kennedy, recently had much to say about the impact they had on his career. Do you feel the same way? What made the Kenton camps special? Do you have a funny or genuine story or moment from that time in your life?

DW: Wow, it was a long time ago! 1975 was my first of three consecutive years there (after winning a scholarship from a High School Jazz Band performance). Tom and Ray had been there I think the year before, as well as here in '75, so they knew the ropes. I was new, young, and alone. But I met them soon, and tried to meld into the 'scene' there. I didn't get in the 'A' band my first year (did year 2&3), but Tom and Ray and I played a bit together and hung out, soon finding out that we lived relatively close to one another back home . This evolved into us getting together and playing quite a bit once back in St. Louis.

The Kenton experience was of course wonderful, but I honestly don't recall too much about the actual events there in particular. I do remember and know, however, what came out of it. Because of that camp, I met Neil Slater, and later went to Bridgeport University because he was the Professor of the Jazz Studies program there. My whole path developed from this decision. And the relationship that ensued with Tom and Ray after the camp was priceless and became very much a big part of my development as well . Also, stemming from that relationship, Tom introduced me to Jay Oliver whom I ended up

spending a lot of time with from ages 16-19, then again when he moved to NY with me in 1981 or so. We were always playing, and Jay was getting into engineering and music production as well, so that was huge as well for that end of my development. We have partnered on many projects over the years, and still do! And Tom and I play together quite a bit these days too. Wonderfully long lasting relationships!

AAJ: Instruction has played a major role in your life, as well, in sharing your knowledge and expertise with students all over the world. You have had a myriad of workshops and clinics over the years. Perhaps you could tell us about those. You most recently did workshops in Cuba. What was that experience like?

DW: Yes, I love the instructional aspect! I didn't, however, do workshops in Cuba. That was more of a Cultural Exchange program that had me interacting with Cuban musicians, young and old alike. It was an amazing experience... I have loved and studied Cuban music for many years, so it was very special to visit, and play with some of the musicians from the culture and life there. The musicianship is on a very high level in Cuba. I was blown away with high school jazz bands, orchestras, club and street musicians alike, that were just incredibly naturally talented. All on very sub standard gear. It was a very humbling, yet really wonderfully rewarding experience!

I have been teaching since I was a teenager, and doing clinics since the early 80's, which has expanded over the years in doing so for Sabian, Yamaha, Vic Firth and other endorsing companies world wide, as well as camps, such as the 'Drum Fantasy Camp.' I have always enjoyed sharing what I know to those interested. I have produced many Instructional videos and DVD's, with the latest project being my 'On Line School.' This is a streaming, subscription service on line, with more than 25 hours thus far of content, that includes a private FaceBook page, only for school members. It's developed into quite the community for all to share and discuss things.

AAJ: You opted to go to the east coast to attend college at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Did it meet your expectations in preparing for a career in the music industry?

DW: As stated above, the connection with Neil Slater propelled it farther than it probably normally would have without that connection. I wanted to be close NYC (Bridgeport was an hour out), as that was where most of the musicians were living/playing that I was listening to, so it was a no brainier for me... the answer to the second question here is, YES. But, I didn't stay that long. I had started to leave the country and tour by my second year, so I did not finish or get a degree. But while there I studied with Ed Soph and Randy Jones, played in small groups and big bands with the school, studied harmony, theory and composition. I stayed on or near the campus my first two years, and in the summers, I had access the music building where my drums were locked up in a storage cage. I made it my practice space for those two summers and got A LOT of work done (10-15 hour practice days were the norm). It was a great experience.

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