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Dave Weckl: The Cymbal of Excellence

Jim Worsley By

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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)

AAJ: In 1983, at twenty three years of age and looking for a break, you get a chance to audition for Simon & Garfunkel. How did that come about? What was the audition like? What did that feel like to perform with them if front of 70,000 people?

DW: The audition came in the form of a live gig (with Ronnie Cuber I believe), that again, because AJ highly recommended me, Paul Simon actually showed up in a limo (again to 7th Ave South!), came upstairs, sat down, heard the show and left. I got the call the next day.

Performing with S&G was just mind blowing. The band was awesome, with Richard Tee playing keys and Musical Directing, the late great Gerry Niewood on sax, Airto on percussion, and yes, playing a stadium tour was off the hook. I don't think anyone is prepared for the sound that 60-80k people can make when all yelling and clapping, directing it to the stage. Overwhelming really! Paul was always very keen to take his old songs and rearrange them. We did "Me and Julio" as a salsa funk tune! Fantastic

AAJ: You have played with so many artists over the years, that it is almost difficult to single out any one or two. Having said that, you are perhaps best known by many for your work with Chick Corea. Can you even begin to describe what it is like to play with Corea and those cats in the Elektric Band? As recently as last year you did a reunion tour with all the original members. Any plans or possibilities of that happening again?

DW: The Electric Band was, and still is, a very special unit, that has only matured with time. We all have a great time getting back together, and it happens basically when Chick feels it to happen, so besides a date in September in Japan this year, I know of no other plans to hit again.

Playing with Chick was really a dream come true.. I had listened to and played along with a lot of his records (with Gadd on them mostly), so I was pretty well versed in his playing style, phrasings, etc. Together with John Patitucci, we hit it off right away when things got going in early 1985. Although very analytical and having a good idea about what he wants, Chick is and was always very cool about giving us space to create. I feel lucky and honored to have played so much with him over the years. With the Akoustic Band as well, we have a great time!

AAJ: I have had the great pleasure of seeing and hearing you play live several times. Most recently at both the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood and the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. There are some subtle differences in your approach when playing with Mike Stern as opposed to Oz Noy. I can hear it, but can't put it into words. Perhaps you could. Also a different connect with Kennedy than that with Anthony Jackson or Jimmy Haslip.

DW: Well, my playing (and sometimes equipment) changes and adapts to whomever I am playing with. It also has to do with the music style and the compositions. The biggest difference in playing with Mike versus Oz, besides the obvious compositional and playing differences, is the feel approach. Mike generally likes to have the feel be bright and on top. Oz has more of an exacting laid-back feel, so it is quite an adjustment go from one to the other. Oz also has many more textures than Mike, with his extensive pedals set up, so I find myself not having to look to fill missing textures where the music is concerned with Oz. Mike's gig is a bit more jazz oriented as well, whereas Oz's is more groove based, but still space to blow. Both are fun and challenging!

The bassist aspect kind of works into this overall musical approach difference. Everyone is different, so it affects how I hear and play things as well. It is part of the enjoyment of being in the moment with whomever you are playing with. Some moments are better or worse, or more comfortable or not, than others. But the challenge is to make it all work musically, and find the way to make it a positive situation with whomever you're playing with.

AAJ: You have released many fine records as a leader. There can be a substantial difference in the material from one record to another. Is this within the relevance of changing times or a desire to diversify or perhaps a combination of those things? How much do the leanings of particular musicians chosen to play on a given record determine the concept from the outset?

DW: When I first started to release records in the early 90's, they were 'project records,' meaning no real direction to accommodate a 'band,' or certain musicians. Jay and I wrote the material first, based on our own musical and creative ideas, then decided who would play on a given song(s)... at times we were writing with musicians in mind though, for sure, and hired them.

Starting with 'Rhythm of the Soul,' we started writing for a band project, one that we could play the material live and go on tour. That stayed the MO through my 'Stretch/Concord' years, with 3 different iterations of the band, and five or six recordings.

In recent years ('14,'15), I released two records, on what technically is my own 'label.' One was an Acoustic group (Dave Weckl Acoustic Band—Of the Same Mind), where we recorded and toured live. The other was another project recording with my old friend/partner Jay Oliver (same as all the early records), called Convergence. This was a mega project, that included crowd funding, instructional play along packages, and a very complete, but was well worth it. I'm very proud of both of those projects.

AAJ: You have played and endorsed Yamaha drums since 1983. That's a long relationship. What is it about Yamaha's product that makes it work so well for you? You also have a long standing relationship with Sabian, that includes product development. What's the skinny with that?.

DW: At the time I was learning and growing as a teenager, most of the guys I was listening to played Yamaha. It was kind of like a young kid aspiring to be a race car driver, watching all the F1 stars driving Ferrari when you were driving go karts. It was a goal to shoot for, to be able to use the best equipment when you got the chance!

My 'chance' came at the Simon and Garfunkel rehearsals. Yamaha was involved with others in the band, so they came to me too. I think I may have surprised them by saying something like; "I'll join, but you have to make me power tom sizes," which were the deep tom and kick sizes. I wanted them 'square,' meaning as deep as they were round (not the kick of course!). I had just had a custom made maple kit built that year, with the square type sizes, and they were killer for what I was doing at the time, which was small diameter toms. They agreed though!

The relationship has been strong, and although the ups and downs of a multi-national corporation (Japan/USA) can be trying at times, it has always been a 'win-win' situation for us. I've had signature snares with them, and always contribute to the continuing evolution in drum and hardware design. They help me out quite a bit with helping for tour equipment, clinics, etc. Their drums and hardware are some of the best out there, and they work for me very well, to allow me to perform and create, with a great deal of comfort and freedom. To me, the care in which the drums and hardware are designed and made are second to none, even with today's 'China made' equipment.

Sabian and I had a relationship that started around the same time, during the Simon and Garfunkel period. Communication issues (or lack there of!) had me move to Zildjian for a number of years, but product deficiency and company policy where 'signature lines' were concerned forced me to look elsewhere in the year 2000 or so. Sabian gave me the opportunity, as with many other of their artists, to create a signature line of cymbals. And did we create a line! Two actually. Today these lines (HHX Evolution and Legacy) remain two of their top selling lines, and remain standouts in the entire industry. We also started the 'Hole-y cymbal' craze, that now EVERY cymbal manufacture as emulated, in one way or another, with the HHX Evolution— OZONE—... Killer cymbal, copied but never equaled (in my humble opinion of course!)
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