Paul Wertico

By Mike Brannon for All About Jazz
issued December 1999

Mike Brannon: What was your musical background growing up?

Paul Wertico: I started playing drums at age 12, when my parents and I moved to Cary, IL. They asked me to take up an instrument, anything except the drums, but the drums are what always fascinated me. I joined the grade school band in 6th grade where I learned how to read music and play the snare drum, etc. Although most of my bandmates had played drums since age 8, I could play their drumsets instantly and I ended up leader of the percussion section. I actually got my first drum set at age 14. Later, when I entered high school, I was fortunate to have a very open minded and extremely gifted band director named Donald Ehrensperger. He let me be me...teachers are so important. I received a music scholarship at Western Illinois University and stayed there for almost two quarters, until Cannoball Adderley's Quintet came to WIU and gave a clinic. Everyone in the percussion department sat in and finally on the last song a friend of mine convinced me to sit in. I went up and played and sort of "tore it up". I told Cannonball's drummer Roy McCurdy that I wanted to leave school and play fulltime. He said that I should, and I quit school the next day. From there I learned from playing with the pros in Chicago.

Mike Brannon: Before guitar, my instrument was drums and the realization that I wasnt going to be playing too many lead parts and people wouldnt be humming what I did probably kept me from continuing (that and disgruntled family members). Did you experience this and what was it about drums that they had a stronger pull than other instruments?

Paul Wertico: I never thought much about that. I HAD TO play the drums. It's what I loved to do, so there was no turning away. I guess I was drawn to the energy, the physicality, the groove. Financially, obviously it's much more profitable to write the songs that people will hum, but as far as people humming my solos...I see alot of air drummers out there, and that's enough.

Mike Brannon: Who have been your most important influences and what did each make you aware of?

Paul Wertico: I listened to everybody and everything I could. Jazz, rock, ethnic...all simultaneously. I didn't differentiate...I loved it all. As far as mentioning a few key influences, in jazz: Roy Haynes, for his sound, humor and compositional smarts (oh yeah, that flat ride on "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs"); Elvin Jones, for his feel and his polyrhythms; Art Blakey; for his swing and his joyous aggressiveness; Tony Williams, for his musical approach and daring; also Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Cyrille, Max Roach, Baby Dodds, Milford Graves and of course, Buddy Rich. In rock: Mitch Mitchell, for his great parts and fearlessness; Ginger Baker, for wonderful grooves and his earthy approach; Keith Moon, for his wildness and great cymbal work; John Bonham, for his gigantic sound and wide feel; also Michael Giles, Robert Wyatt, Clive Bunker, John "Drumbo" French, and Carmine Appice. The list goes on and on including not as famous, but still great players, like jazz drummers Bob Morin and Eddie Marshall, and rock drummers Paul Whaley and Mick Waller.

Mike Brannon: You take teaching seriously while many musicians don't...why is that and what does it bring back to your own music?

Paul Wertico: Teaching is a great way to "give something back". It's also a wonderful way to solidify and expand your own techniques and beliefs by seeing them work for someone else. It's a constant learning experience for both the student and the teacher. There's really nothing quite like seeing a student take your ideas and "run with them". There's also the thrill of seeing someone improve from your suggestions, many times instantly.

Mike Brannon: The Metheny band has probably been the greatest identitifier for you in the music business thus did this gig come about and how has it helped your playing and conception to form and grow?

Paul Wertico: My contact with Pat came as a result of me playing similar ECM-based music with guitarist Ross Traut and Steve Rodby. Pat originally called me to do some gigs with him in the mid-seventies, but I was already committed. I believe Steve recommended me to Pat. It wasn't until Pat heard me play in a club in Portland, Oregon with the Simon & Bard Group that we became serious about me joining his band. As far as its affect on my conception, it's been a great learning experience on countless levels. To be able to play that high of level of music with great musicians every night and to be able to interpret all those wonderful compositions has been an education in itself.

Mike Brannon: In your side projects you get to show a different side of your playing...can you talk about those and that transition from the PMG?

Paul Wertico: I get called for so many different type of projects that I really feel pretty fulfilled working as a sideman. However, when it comes to my own projects, there are a number of sides of myself that I have to get out. I always loved playing "free". Earwax Control was a band whose music was totally improvised and pretty "out there". It was just a lot of fun and completely freespirited. Our CD "2 LIVE" is a good representation of that band. I also did a drum duo CD entitled "BANG!" with drummer Gregg Bendian. It's a great CD and it served as the impetus for the 3-CD set "The Sign of 4", which also included guitarists Derek Bailey and Pat Metheny. The Paul Wertico Trio is a guitar/bass/drums band that I absolutely love. We play hard and we all contribute songs. Also, everyone always gets a chance to stretch. Although I'm the leader, guitarist John Moulder and bassist Eric Hochberg are two of my favorite musicians and I love listening to them solo. We always have a blast playing, and we take no prisoners. At the end of our shows, everyone, musicians and the audience alike, feel exhausted (in a good way). We have one CD out entitled "Live In Warsaw!" that got great reviews and I just finished mastering our new CD, "Don't Be Scared Anymore", that I feel is the best thing I've ever done.

Mike Brannon: Do you have certain examples of your playing that you can point to and be most proud of?

Paul Wertico: I've always tried to play FOR the music and help inspire the other musicians, at least in the way I thought they might want to be inspired. For me, when the overall song sounds great, then I succeeded in my contribution. I've always tried to bring a sense of life and energy to the music. Even if you're playing a ballad, it has to be ALIVE.

Mike Brannon: Can you talk about your own Group...and the new Laurence Hobgood/Brian Torff disc?

Paul Wertico: Brian and I met at The LaCrosse Jazz Fest where he invited me to sit in during his solo bass concert. I did, and we got a standing ovation. So when Brian came back to play in Chicago, I recommended Laurence, whom I've played with in my quintet, as well as with vocalist Kurt Elling. It instantly clicked, and we decided to name the trio Union. We've released two CD's, "Union" and "State of the Union", that have received great critical acclaim and we plan on doing as many gigs as our individual schedules will allow.

Mike Brannon: Have you encountered ways to improve your time and that of students?

Paul Wertico: By concentrating on the quarter notes and then the subdivisions that fit over and between those quarter notes. Also, by listening to the other musicians and becoming part of the overall musical flow. Practicing to a metronome is good, but an even better way is to practice to a drum machine or sequencer that has subdivisions. This can help not only your inner clock, but your feel as well.

Mike Brannon: What do you tend to practice beyond rudiments?

Paul Wertico: I've never been a rudimentally based drummer. In fact, although I know that the rudiments are a great source of developing crucial sticking abilities, I always concentraded on melodic and harmonic based rhythms. As far as what I practice, I work on improving my phrasing, my independence, and my groove, as well as working on feels that are foreign to me and just trying to be able to express my ideas in a clear and confident manner.

Mike Brannon: How would you go about making a student first aware and then capable in the area of polyrhythmic playing?

Paul Wertico: First the student has to have a firm grasp of basic pulse...the quarter notes. Then everything is based off of that. After all, the two or more rhythms being played must coincide on the primary pulse, so everything either falls on the beat or mathmatically subdivided off the beat.

Mike Brannon: What if their instrument were different than your own?

Paul Wertico: Music is music and rhythm is rhythm.

Mike Brannon: Do you usually write on piano or another way?

Paul Wertico: I use the piano, but I'm wouldn't consider myself a piano player by any stretch of the imagination.

Mike Brannon: How much importance do you place on equipment and what are you using at the moment in the different groups you perform with?

Paul Wertico: Although it's always great to use great sounding equipment, I really believe that most of the musical sound projected from an instrument comes from the player. I also always enjoy making music, so whatever instrument I'm playing at the time just makes it all more or less an adventure. As far as what I personally prefer to play, I use: Drum Workshop drums, pedals and hardware; Paiste cymbals, sounds and gongs; Evans drumheads; Pro-Mark drumsticks, brushes, mallets, Tubz, KidzTubz, etc.; Meinl percussion products; Shure microphones; Slug percussion products; and XL Specialty cases.

Mike Brannon: How do you see your role in a group and does it change much from one to another? Paul Wertico: It depends on the band. I can be everything from just a drummer to being a drummer/percussionist/composer/arranger/programmer/engineer/producer/etc. Personally, I usually prefer having a larger contribution to any project. Playing drums is fun, but the more people want you to get involved in other aspects of their music, the more open their concept is.

Mike Brannon: Do you have a philosophy/conception regarding music that can be described?

Paul Wertico: Music is a gift. When you give a gift to someone, it should come from the heart.

Mike Brannon: Is there a spiritual orientation or take on life that's helped you get to where you are?

Paul Wertico: I've read many books on various philosophies. I think that a Zen-like approach seems to deal best with what I'm trying to do as a musician.

Mike Brannon: What do you see the near future bringing as far as gigs, clinics, recordings, etc.?

Paul Wertico: Anyone interested in that can check my web site: I designed, built and maintain it, and I keep all those types of details up to date. It's sort of my hobby.

Mike Brannon: Anything you'd like to make listeners aware of?

Paul Wertico: If anyone interested in the CD's I've mentioned, they're also available from my web site.

Mike Brannon: Ok, lets add a question about the'd you find your way there past all the drum cases and how did you know what to do once you got there?

Paul Wertico: Cooking is very much like music and here too, I usually improvise when I cook. It also is very therapeutic and it doesn't make your ears ring!

Reprinted with permission.
Copyright © 2006 by All About Jazz and Mike Brannon

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