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. AAJ:
How did Peter Erskine factor into you breaking into the New York City jazz circuit? DW:
Peter is probably THEE primary reason that we are having this discussion today. Circa 1981, I was playing with a local Westchester NY group called Nite Sprite (also more or less formed out of the Bridgeport band experience)... the band was really good, a bit adventurous and different, writing our own material plus playing cool fusion covers we liked. It had some 'young depth,' I guess is the only way to describe it. Andy Bloch, the groups' guitarist, who is really a genius musician, was writing a lot for the band, as was Dan Wilensky
, great saxophonist. We had a fabulous lead singers for some tunes (Janice Dempsy, then Vanese Thomas), Paul Adamy on bass, Joe Bonadio on percussion, AND Jay Oliver on keys; (the early band had Fred Vigdor
on sax and Brendon O'keef on keys), but it was this latter band that developed into band that got recognition, and the one that Peter saw.
We were well rehearsed and hungry... we (well, Jay and I) lugged all our stuff up the stairs at 7th Avenue South (Brecker's Club at the time) on April 15th, 1982, (I know the date, as I just looked at the poster I have framed in the office here!). Peter came along with Steve Kahn (Andy was taking some lessons from him) and they hung out and watched the show. That night/show was enough to give Peter the confidence to recommend me for the French Toast gig, which later became the Michel Camilo
band. Anthony Jackson
was the bassist in those bands, and he was very excited, and vocal, about my appearance on the scene. I then started to get called for various things, live and in the studio. It all sort of snowballed from there. (There is a DVD my company produced called Flies on the Studio Wall, the making of Convergence,
where Peter gives his perspective on that night. Really the only time I've heard him talk about it. Flattering to say the least. Available at daveweckl.com)