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After a long career in LA, jazz drummer Dave Weckl returns home to St. Louis

After a long career in LA, jazz drummer Dave Weckl returns home to St. Louis

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Dave Weckl

Jazz drummer Dave Weckl is bringing it all back home — in more ways than one.

His new album, “Live in St. Louis at the Chesterfield Jazz Festival 2019,” was released last week on all digital platforms. The title makes plain the album’s local connection, but Weckl himself, who grew up in the area and gained early notice playing in Francis Howell High School’s award-winning jazz ensemble, is moving back to St. Louis after years spent living in Los Angeles (and occasionally in Italy) with his wife, Clivia.

“I just bought a house (here),” Weckl says by phone from a friend’s house, where he is staying until the deal closes. “It was time to get out of very expensive LA.”

Weckl left St. Louis in 1979 to attend the University of Bridgeport and hit the New York club scene, from which blossomed a long career that has seen him work with luminaries such as Chick Corea, Simon & Garfunkel, George Benson, Robert Plant, Diana Ross and even Madonna, as well as fronting his own band.

“I couldn’t wait to get out of St. Louis to get where the music scene was happening and just go blaze my trail,” Weckl recalls. “But now it’s nice to come back.”

“Live in St. Louis” came about when Michael and Rob Silverman, organizers of the Chesterfield Jazz Festival, asked Weckl to headline the 2019 event.

“Rob said, ‘I would love you to come with whatever you want to come with,’” Weckl says. “But I knew that his favorite thing was the original iteration of my band that was formed with another St. Louis native, Jay Oliver, my friend and keyboard player who co-wrote and co-produced all of my early projects on the GRP record label.”

They were joined on the Chesterfield date by another original member of the band — also a St. Louis native — bassist Tom Kennedy, plus guitarist Howard “Buzz” Feiten and saxophonist Gary Meek, who were in subsequent DWB lineups.

Much of the material from the live album is drawn from the group’s 1998 debut album, “Rhythm of the Soul,” as well as its 1999 follow-up, “Synergy.”

“It came together pretty quickly in my mind, what (the repertoire) should be,” Weckl says. “The question was how to present the group, what era of the group? Was it going to be the R&B-type of thing with Buzz on guitar or more of a fusion, Weather Report-type of thing? I kept going back to the original idea of the R&B version.”

Vintage tracks such as “The Zone,” “Mud Sauce,” “Big B, Little B” and “Access Denied” boast deep grooves and plenty of space for each of the musicians to shine. “Song for Claire” — written back in the day to honor the birth of Weckl’s daughter — offers a lovely, atmospheric change of pace.

One of the undeniable highlights of the album, though, is a jaw-dropping bass-and-drum duet between Kennedy and Weckl on Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning.”

“That’s kind of Tom’s go-to favorite thing to play,” Weckl says. “The improvisation before we go into the tune is always spontaneous, and it’s different every night. Like anything else, we have our good nights and bad nights, but that particular performance was really on. We had a nice dialogue and communication going musically. It was pretty special.”

Weckl also oversaw video recording of the concert, though there are no current plans for a DVD release or on-demand stream. But the show is currently viewable as part of his online school at daveweckl.com. Teaching has long been a part of Weckl’s career, and he has produced a wide variety of instructional materials over the years, from videotapes and books to CDs and DVDs to more current forms of communication.

“The evolution of instruction to apps and streaming is what I’m partaking in now,” he says. “I really enjoy it, because I can constantly update the platform with new stuff every day if I want to. It’s not static, like the older products that are just snapshots of that immediate moment.”

Because of the pandemic, Weckl and the band are unable to tour to promote the album, but some plans are beginning to come together.

“We’re hoping by November of this year that Tom Kennedy and I can do a tour that was planned for last year as a co-led group,” Weckl says. “But with the passing of Chick (Corea) — we were supposed to do a lot of touring with the Elektric Band later this year into next, which is obviously not now going to happen — so the options are on the table to create what we want to do. So there is a possibility that some form of this band could reunite to support the record.”

Jazz legend Corea, with whom Weckl had one of his longest musical associations, died of cancer in February.

“Obviously, the world lost a maestro — a master of his instrument and a composing genius,” Weckl says. “The entire planet was broadsided by his passing. No one really knew that he was sick.”

Getting the opportunity to play with Corea, he adds, was “a pinch-me moment. And it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Chick was a mentor, and he became a friend — and just a constant inspiration, full of energy. He invited our own individual musicality and artistry to come into his music. He thrived on it.”

One of Weckl’s current projects is working with recording engineer Bernie Kirsh to produce a new Elektric Band album, which will come out this year.

“It’s a compilation of Elektric Band shows between 2016 and 2018,” he says. “And it’s really, really good.”

“I couldn’t wait to get out of St. Louis to get where the music scene was happening and just go blaze my trail. But now it’s nice to come back.”

Dave Weckl

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