Dave Weckl has amazed the world with a great display of musicianship in some of the most significant recordings of jazz-fusion of our time. A drummer by trade but a musician by heart, Dave is more than a technically gifted player. His groove and overall tasteful and colorful playing have made him one of the most influential drummers in the world.
Born on January 8 of 1960, Dave Weckl was fortunate enough to grow in a family very appreciative of music. Dave’s parents were fond of listening to different styles of music. His mom was always singing something around the house and his dad played the piano for fun. Dave Weckl’s first musical instrument was actually the guitar. He started playing it when he was 6 years old. Playing guitar wasn’t in the cards for Dave since he couldn’t quite get the hang of it, which made him lose interest fairly quickly.
Dave Weckl can’t pinpoint exactly what triggered his interest for drumming, but he believes he was influenced by one of his next door neighbors who actually played drum set. Listening to him play really sparkled the interest of a 7 years old Dave Weckl, who would promptly beat on stuff around his parent’s house. His dad saw something in Dave’s new found interest. Shortly after his eighth birthday, Dave’s father gave him a small drum set for him to play around with.
For the next few years Dave Weckl learned how to play drums all by himself. He began playing along to pop/ rock records from bands that were popular at the time like “The Monkees”. It was his father who first turned him to jazz when he was around 10 years old. Dave’s dad had some dixieland/ jazz records by Pete Fountain, with Jack Sperling on drums. Jack became Dave’s first big influence. It was through those records that Dave was first introduced to swing playing also. Big band music ensued when Dave listened to Buddy Rich’s “Roar of ’74” album. Dave Weckl was instantly overwhelmed by Buddy Rich and bought every one of his albums he could get his hands on. From that point on Buddy’s recording became Weckl’s drum teacher. He was so into Buddy Rich that he would slow down the songs to understand what Buddy was playing, by using his parents old record player. The funk/ fusion work of Billy Cobham and Peter Erskine’s big band playing for Stan Kenton were also great influences of his. Just like with Buddy Rich, Dave became heavily imbued with Steve Gadd after listening to his playing with “Chick” Corea.
Dave Weckl’s first private lesson came at the age of 12. He would study with two St. Louis based teachers – Bob Matheny and Joe Buerger. During this time, Dave played drums for various local bands. At the young age of 16 he began working professionally with local pop bands, and with big bands that gave him an early start on acquiring the arts of big band playing and chart interpretation.
Dave Weckl graduated from “Francis Howell High School” in St. Charles, Missouri in 1978. During his high school years, Weckl played for the school’s jazz and marching bands. He earned various awards from the “National Association of Jazz Educators” (NAJE) (known as “International Association for Jazz Education” (IAJE) since 1989) for outstanding performances in his high school’s competition-winning jazz band.
In 1979, Dave Weckl moved to Connecticut to enroll in the jazz studies program at the “University of Bridgeport”, where he would be given the chance to learn from master drummers Randy Jones and Ed Soph. This also enabled him to stay closer to New York city, where he could work on his main goals at the time – get into Maynard Ferguson’s band and start working as a session drummer. However,as soon as he started having drum lessons with the late Gary Chester his plans changed dramatically. At the time, Dave thought that if Gary wasn’t able to teach him nothing new on the drums, he could at least ask Gary to hook him up with some session work in New York. Gary Chester was a very busy session drummer and drum educator. Today, he’s primarily known as the mind behind the grueling books “New Breed” and “New Breed II”, designed to take one’s independence and musicality to a whole different level. The books would only be edited some years later, but Gary was already using the methods taught there with all of his students for many years.
Needless to say, after his first lessons with Gary Chester, Dave Weckl felt both excited and sad. Excited, because it was obvious to him he would start learning a new set of skills on the drum set with Gary as his tutor; sad, because he realized he still wasn’t at the level required to make it as a studio drummer. So Dave Weckl decided to use his free time to improve his sound and technique on the drum set as much as possible, before tackling the session market. He would go on to have a very productive year and a half under the guidance of Gary Chester.
Dave was living in an old apartment building above a vacant pizzeria. He had a set of acoustic drums in the living room. The drums were stuffed with pillows to muffle the vibrations and the sound, enabling Weckl to practice without bothering anyone. He got really productive with his drumming during his time in college. He would take advantage of not knowing anyone, and practice six to fifteen hours a day for about three months of summer holidays. Even when school was in session he would spend at least six hours a day playing.
During his St. Louis days and up through his college years, Dave Weckl collected numerous musical influences. Those influences included bebop drummers like Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, and Elvin Jones; pocket based players like David Garibaldi and Harvey Mason, and very creative players like Stewart Copeland and Jack DeJohnette.
In the meantime, Dave Weckl was able to find some time to play in a local New York band called “Nile Sprite”, which featured great musicians. The band played mostly in small Manhattan clubs. One of the band’s fan was a big studio guitarist named Steve Khan, who often brought other name players along with him to watch the band perform. Eventually, “Nile Sprite” was able to get gigs at prestigious clubs “Mikell’s” and “Seventh Avenue South” where it was common to find top New York studio musicians enjoying the live acts. One night, Khan brought along with him Peter Erskine. Dave Weckl had been in touch with Peter for the last three years. Peter really dug “Nite Sprite” and Dave’s playing.
At that time, an eminent band of celebrated New York studio musicians was searching for a drummer to join them in their upcoming “Average White Band Tour”. This band was the forerunner to the “Michel Camilo Band” and was called “French Toast”. Peter Erskine was invited to fill the drummer’s seat. Due to schedule conflicts for later dates in the tour, Erskine was only able to fill for one gig. When asked by the band on who would be a good fit to sub him, he recommended Dave Weckl. And just like that Dave got his first “big gig” in New York.
Fellow “French Toast” band mates Michel Camilo (piano) and Anthony Jackson (bass) where instrumental in getting more work for Dave. Michel was able to set up Dave Weckl with a soap-opera recording session and for recording drums for some jingles. Anthony Jackson on the other hand, got Dave a gigantic opportunity. While working with Paul Simon on the “Hearts And Bones” album, Anthony put his own professional reputation on the line by recommending Dave Weckl for the upcoming “Simon & Garfunkel” reunion tour. After checking Dave Weckl play for Barry Finnerty’s band at “Seventh Avenue South”, Paul decided to offer Dave the gig. The 1983 “Simon & Garfunkel” reunion tour was Dave’s first major scale tour. It took him on an eight-week journey through the United States, Switzerland, France, and Israel.
“French Toast” disbanded in 1984 after the recording of their self-titled album. It didn’t take long for Camilo to create his own band, a trio that included Anthony Jackson and Dave Weckl. In January of 1985, Chick Corea had to travel to New York to play with his group, “Trio Music”. While visiting Brazilian pianist/singer Tania Maria, he was shown a tape containing some Michel Camilo tunes with Dave Weckl on drums. Chick was immediately intrigued by the drummer on the recordings. At the time, Chick Corea had already though about starting “The Chick Corea Elektric Band”, so he was on the look out for any musicians that would spark his interest. Tania told him it that the drummer in the recording was a guy named Dave Weckl. Dave’s name had already been mentioned to Chick by Michel Brecker and other musical peers.
That same day, Dave Weckl was playing at “The Bottom Line” with Bill Connors, thus Chick decided to check his playing. The two met after the show, and a couple of weeks later Chick called Dave to invite him to join “The Chick Corea Elektric Band” for a tour. That was the beginning of a seven year relationship with “The Chick Corea Elektric Band”, and later “The Chick Corea Akoustic Band”. With the “Elektric Band” Dave Weckl was able to showcase his cutting-edge drumming and innovative use of electronic and acoustic drums, bringing him a much deserved worldwide recognition.
In the mid-1990s, Dave Weckl started having drum lessons with Freddy Grubber. The work developed with Grubber was key in revamping the way Dave played drumst, with the introduction of the Moeller technique to his tool box of technique and the understanding of the physics behind drumming. Dave Weckl is also very into cars.
“The Chick Corea Elektric Band” was responsible for redefining the fusion musical genre. Legendary pianist/composer Chick Corea, guitarist Frank Gambale, bassist John Patitucci, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, and Dave Weckl were able to not only bring innovation to their respective instruments, but with their level of musicality in playing Chick’s compositions, helped propel the band to the of mainstream of music. Dave Weckl recorded six studio albums with the “Elektric Band” – “The Chick Corea Elektric Band” (1986), “Light Years” (1987), “Eye of the Beholder” (1988), “Inside Out” (1990), “Beneath the Mask” (1991). After a ten year hiatus, the original lineup reunited to record “To the Stars” (2004).
Another very important project Dave Weckl was involved with was “The Chick Corea Akoustic Band”. This acoustic trio included Chick on piano, John Patitucci on upright bass, and Dave on drums. This band was formed in the late 1980s, and only recorded two records – “Akoustic Band” (1989) and live album “Alive” (1991). It would be with this band that Dave Weckl would receive one of the greates honours of the music business. For the album “Akoustic Band” the band won a “Grammy Award” for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Group”.
Dave Weckl has worked nonstop throughout the years has a drummer and has a producer for hundreds of projects. Dave has worked with artists like “Madonna”, Simon & Garfunkel, Paquito D’Rivera, Diana Ross, Michel Camilo, Chick Corea, Frank Gambale, Richard Tee, John Patitucci, Chuck Loeb, and Mike Stern among many others. For more details on albums, artists, songs, or projects featuring Dave, check this thorough compilation of his discography.
Besides being a very successful “sideman”, Dave has also worked as a solo artist. “Masterplan” (1990), “Heads Up” (1992), and “Hardwired” (1994) are the three solo efforts Dave Weckl produced and recorded. In 1998, Dave realized the long-time goal of forming an international touring band – “The Dave Weckl Band”. His band released five studio albums – “Rhythm Of The Soul” (1998), “Synergy” (1999), “Transition” (2000), “Perpetual Motion” (2002), and “Multiplicity” (2005). The band also released a live album – “LIVE (and very plugged in)” (2003) and a compilation album entitled “The Zone” (2001), which also included a bonus DVD with some samples from Dave Weckl’s “A Natural Approach” series. Dave ended the band when the amount of work and responsibility he had to deal with was draining the fun factor out of having his own band.
As most of the outstanding players of our time, Dave Weckl constantly studies the art of drumming and of music making. He’s also a dedicated teacher giving back as much as he can to the next generation of drummers, through clinics all over the world and some private lessons from time to time. Dave also teaches at the annual “Drum Fantasy Camp“.
“It is my goal to inspire as many young (and not-so-young) people as possible to want to play music, whether it be on drums or another instrument. With all the negatives in the world today, I feel this is my way of contributing a positive action toward spiritual happiness, which music can be a big part of, if you let it. So parents, if your child has a talent for music, please allow them the opportunity to develop that talent!” – Dave Weckl, from his website.
Besides his clinics and private lessons, through the years Dave has developed a great variety of instructional products. “Contemporary Drummer + One” (1988) play-along pack and the now historical “Back to Basics” (1988) were his first releases. The recording session for “Back to Basics” was the same one where Dave’s next release – “The Next Step” (1990) – was shot. The accompaniment book/CD combo for the “Back to Basics” video was released in 1992. The following year was another very productive time for Dave Weckl with the release of three new products. “Working it Out: Latin Percussion Part 1” and “Working it Out: Latin Percussion Part 2” were the result of a partnership between drummer/percussionist Walfredo Reyes Sr. and Dave Weckl. In these videos there’s an in depth study of how Latin rhythms from different countries are to be played when there’s a percussionist playing alongside a drummer. “Ultimate Play-Along For Drum – Level 1 – Volume 1” book/2 CDs pack is a product in the same vein as Weckl’s first play-along pack.
Just like what was done with “Back to Basics”, in 1994 “The Next Step” book/CD package was launched. A sequel to “Ultimate Play-Along For Drum – Level 1 – Volume 1” was launched in 1996, tentatively named “Ultimate Play-Along For Drum – Level 1 – Volume 2”. Dave’s performance at the “Modern Drummer Festival” in 1998 is included on a DVD with the same name. As the 21st century began, Dave Weckl launched a series of three videos called “A Natural Evolution”. Dave discusses how to develop technique (A Natural Evolution: How to Develop Technique), how you should go about practicing (A Natural Evolution: How to Practice), and how to get the sound you want from your drums (A Natural Evolution: How to Develop Your Sound).
The following year saw the release of another play-along instructional package – “In Session With the Dave Weckl Band” book/CD combo. Here, you get the chance to “sit-in” with the “Dave Weckl Band”, playing along to songs straight from the band’s “Rhythm of the Soul” 1997 album. Just like all the other play-along packs from Dave, you get access to the songs minus the drums, complete charts, and suggestions of how to perform the music, among other things.
Dave’s last instructional products are a book/CD combo called “Exercises for Natural Playing” (2004), which is based on his “A Natural Evolution” series. The book contains a lot of transcribed exercises from the videos, and brand new ideas for you to work on. Due to his lack of time to put out an album, in 2009 Dave Weckl started the “Singles Project“. You can not only download the songs from his website, but also videos of Dave playing the track, and play-along versions with charts for every instrument included in the recording. This is an ongoing project, so as time goes by more tracks will be added.
Dave Weckl is also a very active man regarding product development with the brands he endorses. He has worked with “Sabian Cymbals” on coming up with two lines of signature cymbals – “HHX Evolution” (2001) a more brighter sounding collection of cymbals, and the “HHX Legacy” (2006) a more dark and trashy line of cymbals. “Vic Firth” has come out with two different signature sticks for Dave with the option of having the tip in wood or nylon. With “Yamaha Drums” Dave has worked on developing two signature snare drums and also helped with the development of the “Phoenix” line of drums. With “Remo”, Dave Weckl developed two products. The first one was the “Remo Bass Drum Muffling System” and the second one the “Remo Active Drum Dampening System”, which works as an active snare muffler.
Dave Weckl started playing drums like most of us did, that is, playing along to music and learning the different drum parts for the songs. Imitation is said to be the greatest form of compliment there is. More than a compliment, imitation is the only natural resource at our disposal for acquiring most of our set of skills on almost anything we do. We start using this feature in our early years of life, imitating the behavioral model of our parents to an extent of course. When it comes to drumming it is no different. We have to start learning somewhere, and that somewhere can very well be the drummers that came before us. This will help you understand some of the basic mechanics involved in drumming, as well as start developing your facility and vocabulary on the drums. This is just like when you start learning how to talk, you imitate the words you hear your parents say over and over again. You’re not creating new words, you’re just acquiring the words everybody around you uses, so you can start creating some sentences and developing conversations.
Dave Weckl thinks that learning how to play drums this way is totally valid. It’s not only a lot of fun to learn like this, but it will also get you learning how to figure out drum parts from songs just by listening. This will in turn make you a better listener and will strengthen your inner feel for different rhythms. With time, you’ll get faster and faster at learning new drum parts from songs. Besides, the only real way of learning about a style of music is by listening and playing along to it. There are books, DVDs and lessons on the internet that are extremely helpful in laying down the information about a particular style for you. However, if you listen to the music carefully and focus on keeping the feel and dynamics the same you’ll be able to develop a very authentic feel for that particular style that songs belongs to. Playing along to records will also develop your sense of time, since you’ll be playing along to musicians.
Dave thinks that it’s beneficial for your playing if you don’t focus exclusively on a given band or drummer for to long. If you focus exclusively on a drummer by playing-along to songs from his bands, the more you’ll actually sound like him. We can create our own sound on the drums, but we are also the result of our influences. So if you want to some day work on your own voice, it will be easier if you have a broader palette of influences regarding drummers and styles of music.
To learn what he needed to have in his playing to get hired to work in a studio, Dave started studying the drummers that were hired most of the times. By listening to what they were doing in some of the recordings they were hired to do he was trying to find some guiding lines to what he should work on, to start getting called up. What also helped him getting studio work was his great ability to read charts. Lastly, and something that may be overlooked by some, Dave Weckl considers that your overall attitude is as important as your abilities on the drum set. Lets face it, if you aren’t nice to people and don’t know how to talk with them in a civilized manner chances are you won’t get hired or called back to do other studio sessions for the same producers and musicians. In fact, you could also get a bad repute for not being easy to work with, which will make it that much complicated to get gigs. Remember, Dave Weckl first started getting cool gigs because of recommendations from people he had worked with or that saw him play. So don’t work solely on your drumming skills, but on your social skills as well.
Since we’re talking about studio work, it’s imperative you don’t mix session work with working with your own band or projects. You see, in the studio you are usually hired to do whatever the producer or band/artist wants. So remember to be professional and respectful of what you’ve been hired to do, and don’t let your ego get in the way of your work.
“When working for someone else in the studio, there’s no time to say, ‘No, I’m not going to tune the snare drum down because it’s not my sound!’ Save that crap for your own album! It’s just a matter of how much you want to work. If I am on a record date that is a creative situation and I feel they are hiring me for my sound, then it’s up to me.” – Dave Weckl in Potter, Jeff. “Dave Weckl.” Modern Drummer Magazine Oct 1986.
We’ve been talking about some concepts like how to approach a studio session, what skills to have to be a professional studio musician, and also Dave’s take on practicing with music, but what about his drumming? What can be learned from his playing? No matter what is covered in this article, it won’t be possible to really convey the quality of Dave’s playing by words. This is something it has to be seen and heard to be really understood and appreciated.
Dave Weckl has been influenced by a lot of different styles of music. Rock, Latin, jazz, funk, fusion…you name it. He has developed somewhat of a mastery over each of these feels. Dave can play extremely tight and intricate grooves that in some way stems from his period learning from Gary Chester. Gary helped him tighten up his ability to play with great feel, meeter, and independence. The combination of these abilities conditions him to play the simplest of grooves with the greatest of feels, enabling him at the same time to add different layers to the groove if he so desires.
Another cool thing you’ll get from Dave Weckl is the way he plays around with odd time signatures and beat displacement. Beat displacement is the concept of displacing the beat for a given note value. For instance, if you displace a beat by an 8th note you’ll start playing a beat starting on the “and” of count 1, instead of on count 1 like you usually do. The remaining notes of the beat are to be displaced by one 8th note also. You can use any other note value you may like to, like 16th notes or triplets, to work as the displacement value. You can find a good example of this on the solo section of Michel Camilo’s song “Just Kiddin'” from the album “Why Not” (1993).