Jazz drummer stays true to his music

Jon Dahlager

He may play jazz, but don’t confuse him with Kenny G.

Drummer Dave Weckl, who became nationally known for drumming on the 1983 Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour, doesn’t play what has come to be known as “smooth jazz.”

“[It] has the least amount of anything relating to jazz,” Weckl says.

And the Dave Weckl Band doesn’t play what radio, record labels and MTV want to hear.

Instead, the band performs its own blend of jazz at a time when the music industry currently favors easily marketable pop music acts such as Britney Spears and ‘N Sync, leaving few outlets for bands who groove like the Dave Weckl Band.

“There’s just not a lot of exposure for creative music these days, which is really a drag,” Weckl says. “I’m not sure where the corporate industry is going to allow it to go.”

And those few stations that play jazz don’t seem to be looking to give airplay to Weckl’s modern jazz fusion, opting instead for smooth jazz.

“The corporate suits that run the industry say, `Well, that’s what sells – that’s what the format’s got to be,’ and they play it on the radio,” Weckl says. “People hear that and they think, `This is jazz.'”

However, the watered-down version of jazz that is broadcast over the airwaves is only a tiny fraction of an ever-evolving genre in which much of the music is ignored or passed off as unmarketable.

“It kind of falls through the cracks of what’s going on,” Weckl explains. “All we can do is hope that enough people hear it and become interested in it and start asking for it on the radio and just do what is honest for us.”

Following this philosophy, Weckl and his band went into the studio to record the recently released “Transition.”

“The title is sort of self-explanatory,” Weckl says. “The band has been going through some transitions lately.”

Feeling that guitar no longer fit the direction he wanted to take with the band, the drummer restructured his five-piece band into a four-piece one (keyboard, bass, drum set, saxophone), sans guitar.

Once he was satisfied with the lineup, Weckl got the band together to jam as the first step in the writing process for the new album.

“Basically, the idea was to create a live group feeling as quickly as possible,” Weckl says.

Writing, rehearsing, recording and mixing were completed in less than two months in order to capture the sound Weckl wanted.

“It was quite a feat to get it all finished,” Weckl says. “We recorded it all live, with little mixing and patching.”

Weckl wanted the album to accurately represent the band’s live presence.

“The tunes on this record are longer, there’s more playing, and it’s kind of more interactive,” Weckl explains. “Really, there isn’t a whole lot of difference, and that’s the whole idea, really, to capture the band the way they sound at that point and time when playing music.”

The live performance is also important to the band, as it allows them to showcase their songs, groove and improvise.

“The live show is basically taking a journey through the different tunes on this record,” Weckl says. “There’s a lot of different textures and rhythms, but there’s definite melodies to grasp onto. There’s a lot of different elements of music going on, though nothing is too complex or abstract.”

The Dave Weckl Band’s current live concert experience, however, is a far cry from the packed stadium shows the drummer played with Simon and Garfunkel in 1983. Weckl performed in front of 30-40,000 people on a tour that spanned the United States, with a few overseas dates.

“When you talk about memorable moments, that was definitely one of them,” Weckl says.

The drummer didn’t get to play these shows and play on studio recordings for artists such as Diana Ross and Robert Plant without working diligently on his musicianship.

“You have to spend a lot of time learning about what it is you’re doing and perfecting your craft and have a broad base knowledge of styles and cultures,” Weckl says. “You need to really go back and learn about that.”

He feels this is important for all musicians, no matter what style of music they play, because artists really aren’t able to make music that totally breaks new ground.

“These days, it’s really hard to do something new and different,” Weckl says. “I don’t consider what I’m doing anything new or different, but I do consider it an attempt at blending different things going on.”