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Dave Weckl on the art of drumming, experimenting with different genres, and Damien Chazelle's Whiplash

Not many musicians in the world can claim to have performed with such distinguished artists like Simon & Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Mike Stern and Madonna. Thanks to an undying passion for the art of drumming and an extraordinary flair for playing across genres, Dave Weckl can. But, humble as ever, the American jazz fusion drummer insists that whether he’s collaborating with Paul Simon or a local Indian jazz act like Absandey, they’re all equally special to him. “Every show, with any artist, is special at that moment. I try to make every performance memorable. I try to make every time I sit at the kit the most important performance of my life because it could always be the last one,” he says.

Dave Weckl. Image via Twitter

Dave Weckl. Image via Twitter

Considered "one of the 25 best drummers of all time,” Weckl’s rare skills are defined by incredible chops, an innate groove awareness, great compositional skills and a natural feel for every genre he explores. After his first gig in India back in 2009 with the Sandeep Chowta Project, Weckl headlined the 2018 chapter of the Jazz India Circuit festival in New Delhi. We caught up with him to discuss his musical influences, his approach to drumming (and music in general), his most recent endeavours and also — because why not — his thoughts on the brutal disciplinarian in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash.

Were the drums your first instrument? What drew you towards it?

My first attraction to an instrument was the guitar. After realising that I had no interest to really do what it would take to play the guitar, I quit and started to beat on boxes and pan lids on my bed until my father broke down and bought me a cheap drum set. I often think the drums chose me.

Who were your earliest musical influences? Were there any particular drummers you loved to emulate or just really looked up to?

Pop rock music of the 60s and 70s was the first influence, with no particular drummer in mind. My father exposed me to Dixieland Jazz, where Jack Sterling was the drummer (with Pete Fountain). That lead to Buddy Rich records, and later various records with Steve Gadd on drums. I’ve had many influences but those were my three most prominent ones at an early age.

Dave Weckl performs a drum solo during a concert. Image courtesy: Roland Pozsonyi

Dave Weckl performs a drum solo during a concert. Image courtesy: Roland Pozsonyi

While playing the drums for musicians of different genres, how do you adapt your style of play for jazz, rock, pop, fusion, or blues sets?

How I play and what gear I will use is always determined by the artist and music to be played. I always think about and visualise how I will fit into the music both performance-wise and sound-wise. I draw on my knowledge and awareness from having listened to many styles and cultures of music through the years to help me prepare and have a game plan for the music to be played.

Whether performing live or in the studio, your ability to listen and react to other musicians is paramount. How do you stay in sync with other musicians?

Everyone must hear themselves and all other musicians properly, as clearly as possible. I do this by having my own personal mixer (QSC) and in-ear headphones (SHURE) for all aspects of playing, live or studio, so that I have control and the ability to dial in my own mix without relying on others to do that for me while I play.

Do you try to come up with new techniques and styles as you experiment with different genres of music?

Sometimes, I suppose. I always prefer to live in a creative space with no real boundaries, stylistically speaking. That allows me to mix and cross-pollinate styles, which can create some new sounding feels, grooves or music.

What do you try to do to stay busy and at the top of your game?

I just keep studying the art form, practice and play. I also try to maintain a healthy lifestyle where fitness and diet are concerned. Without good health, it’s harder or impossible to do anything at high levels.

What is the history of your drum gear from your first ever set to the current setup?

It started with boxes and pan lids, then the cheap three-piece kit. At 13, I got a five-piece Gretsch kit that I played thorough high school and most of college. I had a custom maple kit made in New York in my early 20s before getting the Yamaha endorsement in 1983 while touring with Simon and Garfunkel. I play various woods and set ups, still using Yamaha today.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are excited about?

My online school is the biggest project for me at the moment. I’ve been very busy with my partner, Steve Orkin (Drum Fantasy Camp founder) creating it, filming courses and maintaining it. It’s doing very well and I’m very excited about it.

Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) pushes an aspiring jazz drummer, Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), past his physical and mental limits in Whiplash.

The drill sergeant-like conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) pushes an aspiring jazz drummer, Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), past his physical and mental limits in Whiplash

What kind of drumming instructor would you say you are? Does one need to be as strict as JK Simmons was in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash in order to get the best out of his students?

I try to be as thorough in my explanations as possible, and make sure the production we offer is of great quality, so the student can really see and hear what is going on.

I believe in positive, encouraging type of instruction, which also includes honest constructive criticism. Whiplash was pure Hollywood nonsense as far as the reality of teaching and providing a positive environment goes, in my opinion. The ‘army boot camp’ approach is not my thing.

Any advice for young drummers? How much practice is too much practice?

You must study as much as possible and learn about the history of music, drums and drummers. You must practice, with good guidance, as much as possible without physically hurting yourself. A foundation in studying and practicing in every aspect is paramount. Learning as many styles and cultures of music is also very important. Playing with other musicians as much as possible is necessary, and the goal anyway!

Updated Date: Mar 08, 2018 18:50 PM

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