Twelve years ago, a friend and fellow drummer attempted to convince me that Dave Weckl is not technically human. Having just attended one of his drumming masterclasses, my friend was in awe of his preternatural skill and refused to accept my scepticism. But having finally seen Weckl’s Mosaic Music Festival performance in March at the Esplanade, I’m not so sure anymore. [read Time Out Singapore’s roundup of the Mosaic Music Festival 2009]
In terms of ability and accomplishment, Weckl is one of the true greats. Having graced the drum throne for Chick Corea, George Benson and Robert Plant, his recordings have scooped Grammy Awards and inspired musicians the world over. It is often said that simply to listen to his playing is sheer pleasure; to attempt to emulate it is pure frustration.
An artist honoured in the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, Weckl’s musical palette transcends the genre of jazz. He possesses mindboggling speed and coordination, metronomic precision and a grasp of complex time signatures that leaves most musicians politely wondering if the man is, perhaps, a touch autistic. Just in time for the DrumZout 2009 auditions at the end of this month, Time Out Singapore gathers advice for aspiring drummers, and finds the maestro to be as articulate a conversationalist as he is a percussionist.
Drumsticks (credit: Paul Williams)
Your approach to playing jazz is more open-minded than most, incorporating different styles of drumming such as world music. What kind of musical inspiration do you get from your ongoing travel experiences?
Quite a bit, actually. I’ve a lot of contacts from artists, different projects, styles and genres, from all over the planet, so it’s kind of an education for us to travel, to see and take in the real feel of the music. But it’s not only the music, it’s taking in the different cultures and areas of the world that is enriching and it’s nice to be able to have those experiences. They all contribute to the creative [element of drumming].
You have been doing a lot of ‘sideman’ work touring with various bands lately. How do you inject your personal touch into each band without cramping their style?
Quite easily, actually! The people that are calling me are asking me to do what I do, the way that I do it. But having said that, I’m very sensitive to the music, the composer, to the way that they want it to feel or sound.
I grew up being a sideman in the studios of New York, having to do what was necessary for the music that was being recorded, so I really enjoy the sideman aspect. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, so it’s really enjoyable for me at this stage of my life.
‘There’s reading foundation – learning how to read notes and interpret that on the drum set. And then there’s the technical foundation – being able to do things with your hands and feet that become second nature…’
You have commented in the past that in today’s age of internet and TV, kids are sometimes missing out on the positive side of music.
Yeah, I think it’s the parents’ responsibility really, to expose their kids to the real aspects of yesterday’s music and the history and lineage of where the musicians and music has come from. To expose them from a very young age, to give them the opportunity to make up their own minds [about] what they like.
They are always going to be influenced by peer pressure, by what’s going on, what’s trendy, but it’s the parents’ job to nurture the kid and when I try to do that with my own daughter, she’s richer because of it. I mean, she’s 11 and she can sing along with Bonnie Raitt and Tower of Power as easily as she can with Miley Cyrus and Jordin Sparks!
The drums are a less melodious instrument than say, a guitar or sax. Is it harder for drummers to practise for longer periods on their own?
Well [regarding melodiousness], yes and no. I try to approach everything I do from a very melodic standpoint. Even something as simple as a groove is really a composition that is structured or orchestrated on a drum set in a melodic way…rhythmically. It shouldn’t be any harder to sit there and practise because there’s so much to learn.
There are foundations that have to be studied in order to do it well and do it right. There’s reading foundation – learning how to read notes and interpret that on the drum set. And then there’s the technical foundation – being able to do things with your hands and feet that become second nature, which comes through constant repetitive action. There’s so much to study if you really apply yourself.
Most people in Singapore live in apartments. How would you advise a drum student to best spend their study time after hours?
Use practice pads to study the technical side. Don’t practise technique when you’re at the drumkit. Practise what you need to practise – the drumkit stuff. After hours is when you listen. That’s when you practise technical things that don’t make noise. If you apply yourself, you can work your schedule around when you can’t make a lot of noise.
For the serious drummer wanting to do it as a career, I highly recommend they search out a practice facility where they can store the drums and even pay a little bit of money to be able to go in there and make noise.
‘I just don’t have any room for negative, confrontational people, who feel that they have to criticise something. I try to stay on the positive side of it.’
You have played with so many greats throughout your career. Is there one particular musician you can name as the biggest honour to play with?
No, I can’t. I’ve been blessed to play with so many great artists, you know, and that just ranges across a huge number of people. Everybody’s got their own special thing that makes them who they are and it’s part of the variety, you know?
It’s nice to be able to experience musicians at such a high level and learn from them and be able to share music with them. It’s part of why I do what I do – to get that opportunity and to experience that.
You are ranked in skill alongside your own heroes, such as the great Buddy Rich. Do you feel the pressure?
I guess there’s always a little bit of pressure being put in the same category as some of the great players that I grew up listening to. But at the end of the day, I just play the best that I can and make the musical experience one that is positive for everybody.
I learned a long time ago that you can’t please everybody – it’s unrealistic. I just don’t have any room for negative, confrontational people, who feel that they have to criticise something. I try to stay on the positive side of it. I mean, nobody is trying to make bad music or to play badly. Everybody is trying to say it the way that they want to say it, so you gotta take the positive.
Check out Time Out Singapore's drumming trivia timeline.
Photo credit: Paul Williams