Paul Wertico: “One of the most versatile and musical drummers in music today”: Video

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05.01. – Happy Birthday !!! Hailed in the press as “One of the most versatile and musical drummers in music today”, Paul Wertico was born on January 5, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. At age 12, he learned how to read music and play drums and percussion instruments in grade school. At age 14, he got his first drum set and taught himself how to play it.

By age 15, he was already playing professionally with various rock and jazz bands. By the early ’70s, he was a fixture of the Chicago music scene, playing and recording with a multitude of diverse artists including legendary jazz saxophonist Joe Daley, ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner, blues-rock vocalist/guitarist Ellen McIlwaine, rock singer Adrian Smith, folk singer Terry Callier, ECM-influenced guitarist Ross Traut, the fusion-based Simon & Bard Group, and a whole list of others. Always active in various realms of creative and avant-garde music, he most notably started two cooperative bands — Earwax Control with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Czech and keyboardist Gordon James, and Spontaneous Composition with multi-reed player Rich Corpolongo and bassist Doug Lofstrom.

In 1983, Wertico joined the Pat Metheny Group, starting a long and fruitful collaboration that continued for 18 years, resulting in eight recordings, several gold records, and the winning of seven Grammy Awards (three for “Best Jazz Fusion Performance,” three for “Best Contemporary Jazz Performance,” and one for “Best Rock Instrumental Performance”), as well as numerous magazine polls. In addition to the PMG recordings, he played on the Group’s videos: More TravelsWe Live Here – Live In Japan 1995 and Imaginary Day, as well as on Pat Metheny’s Grammy winning solo 1992 project Secret Story and Pat Metheny’s Secret Story – LIVE video. Wertico also played with Pat on the score and soundtrack for the movie The Falcon And The Snowman, which included the international hit song “This Is Not America” featuring David Bowie, and on the score to the movie Twice In A Lifetime. In February 1986, Wertico joined Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Ernie Watts in Argentina for a week of critically acclaimed engagements, and the summer of 1988 saw a revival of Metheny’s Special Quartet with performances in California, Japan, and Hong Kong. During most of 1993, he and his wife, Barbara Unger-Wertico, toured together as members of Pat’s Secret Story band, performing in 18 countries around the world. Wertico left the PMG in 2001.

Wertico has played with countless jazz, rock, funk, R&B, blues, gospel, fusion and ethnic musicians, and was a member of both the Larry Coryell Trio and the Jeff Berlin Trio. He was also a member of the legendary Eastern European rock band, SBB, for seven years (2000-2007), as well as the Polish all-star jazz-fusion group, The Colors. When he is not touring, he divides his time between studio work, producing, session playing, and leading his own groups. In reviews, his playing has been compared to that of an “Impressionist painter,” while Wertico has also been described as “an inspired madman,” “a restless innovator,” “a true legend of jazz drums,” “a master of drumming insanity,” “a genius of the sticks,” and a recent review stated “Wertico simply oozes musicality.” In 2004, Wertico was honored as a Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, and he has also been honored by both the Chicago Tribuneand the Chicago Sun-Times with numerous Album of the Year nods.

He is also extremely active in the field of education. In addition to teaching drums privately for 45 years, Wertico is an Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, where he also was Head of Jazz and Contemporary Music Studies for five years. He also served on the faculty of the percussion and jazz studies programs at Northwestern University for 16 years and taught drums at the Bloom School of Jazz for seven years. He’s written many educational articles for magazines such as DownBeatModern DrummerDRUM!Drums & Drumming, and Drum Tracks, as well as for Musician.com. Wertico also performs drum clinics, masterclasses, and workshops at music festivals, universities, high schools, and music stores around the world. He also serves on the Advisory Board and Pro-Panel of Modern Drummer magazine, and the Education Committee of the Jazz Institute of Chicago. He also served five terms on the Board of Governors of The Recording Academy Chicago Chapter (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences). In addition, he’s released two instructional videos, Fine Tuning Your Performance and Paul Wertico’s Drum Philosophy, the later was also released on DVD in 2009 by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. In reviews, Modern Drummer included it in their list of the best drum videos in the last 25 years in their article “THE HIT LIST: Drumming Videos That Set The Standard,” and wrote “This exceptional reissue is one of the most valuable videos on the market for the advanced drummer.”; DRUM! magazine wrote “No mere instructional video, Paul Wertico’s concise offering shows the former Pat Metheny Group drummer’s extraordinary musicality and intuitive approach to the instrument parlayed into an enjoyable if unconventional 110-minutes of instruction.”; and Drum.com wrote “Paul Wertico Drum Philosophy offers a framework to playing the instrument not just as a drummer, but as a true musician…it really does represent a fresh approach to the drums from the perspective of pure musicality.”

In July 2017, Alfred Music published Wertico’s drum book, TURN THE BEAT AROUND. Wertico wrote the book to help drummers explore an alternative way of thinking and grooving, and the book is for all drummers, since it runs the gamut from simple to complex, regardless of their musical style. A brief description of the book is: “Habits and traditions are often hard to change, but discovering new and creative ways of rearranging and rethinking established norms is what distinguishes a great drummer and provides endless challenge and possibilities. TURN THE BEAT AROUND breaks decades-old routine by examining “backbeats” in a whole new light, asking the questions: “Why are backbeats always played on beats 2 & 4?” and “What about playing them on beats 1 & 3?” By delving into this inquiry, Paul Wertico provides drummers with innovative ways of expanding their groove vocabulary, solidifying their time, and mastering coordination and limb independence. Wertico has even coined a new word for these types of reversed beats: frontbeats.”

Wertico’s discography as both leader, co-leader and sideman is lengthy and impressive. His debut CD as a leader, entitled The Yin And The Yout, received great critical acclaim including 4 stars in DownBeat magazine. It featured a legion of guest stars including saxophonists Dave Liebman and Bob Mintzer, bassists Dave Holland and Victor Bailey, pianist Richie Bierach, percussionist Mino Cinelu, harmonica ace and former Flecktone Howard Levy, and guitarist Pat Metheny (billed mysteriously as Yu Gno Who). Paul’s 1998 CD is a live recording of the Paul Wertico Trio entitled Live In Warsaw! It received 4 ½ stars in DownBeat and features guitarist John Moulder and bassist Eric Hochberg. This same trio’s 2000 release was a studio recording entitled Don’t Be Scared Anymore. It received spectacular reviews such as “This album is like the soundtrack to the world’s coolest vacation” and “Jazz-rock in the truest sense”.

His 2004 CD, StereoNucleosis, also won rave reviews such as “Wertico reinvents the language of progressive jazz for a new generation on this outing” and “Wertico’s StereoNucleosis, easily the finest jazz-rock outing of 2004.” LA Weekly magazine even wrote “Don’t Be Scared Anymore and the new StereoNucleosis are stunning examples of the electronic, rhythmic and intellectual directions jazz could be going.” The Paul Wertico Trio’s 2006 CD release, entitled Another Side, is on the audiophile Naim Label and has been described as “A brilliant collaborative effort between these three uniquely talented musicians.”

Wertico’s 2010 recording entitled Impressions Of A City is on the Chicago Sessions Ltd. label. It featured his band, Paul Wertico’s Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance, which included his usual trio, guitarist John Moulder and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Peters, as well as guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch. It garnered reviews such as “One of the most impressively spontaneous albums you’ll find on this planet – or any other” by jazz critic Neil Tesser; “Haunting and memorable…an engaging musical experiment and one that is highly unique.” by JazzChicago.com; “This is musical narrative at its finest. A fanfare for the common (and mechanically exploited) 21st century man and woman.” by Jazz Inside NY; “Sometimes beautiful, other times tense or just plain spooky, Impressions Of A City ought to go some way toward correcting the dubious reputation of avant-garde music.” by DRUM! magazine; “A wildly unpredictable journey into one man’s apparently inexhaustible sonic imagination.” by Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune; and John Ephland of DownBeat magazine gave it 4½ stars and wrote “What makes the music work is not only that Wertico is not content to just “play it straight” as a drummer but that his skills as a conceptualist/leader may even be greater. A heads-up for all budding drummers (check out Wertico’s inventive pause of a solo on “My Side Of The Story”) who would like to hear and create music that goes beyond just keeping time.” It was also named one of DownBeat’s Best CDs of 2010.

He’s also released numerous co-led recording projects including the self-titled LP, Earwax Control, and a live Earwax Control CD entitled Number 2 LIVE, as well as the self-titled LP, Spontaneous Composition. Wertico then went on to form and record with the highly democratic Union Trio, with pianist Laurence Hobgood and bassist Brian Torff, releasing two CDs, Union and State Of The Union. In 1996, he released a drum duo recording with fellow percussionist Gregg Bendian entitled BANG! that was to lay the groundwork for the 1997 recording The Sign Of 4 featuring Wertico, Bendian, Metheny, and Derek Bailey.

In 2007, Brian Peters and Wertico released their CD Ampersand, which Drummerszone.com called “Simply a musical masterpiece” and Classic Drummer magazine described as “One of the most ambitious records ever released. Recorded over a period of four years, it documents a completely new approach to combine elements of both Rock and Jazz music while resulting in a very listenable and captivating final product.” Also in 2007, Wertico released Jazz Impressions 1 with pianist Silvano Monasterios and bassist Mark Egan. Chicago Jazz Magazine wrote “From the first note of Jazz Impressions 1, you know you’re in for something interesting and different. What these three do with that format, however, is nothing short of breathtaking.”

Some recent co-led releases include a CD by Paul Wertico & Frank Catalano entitled Topics of Conversation; a CD by Fabrizio Mocata, Gianmarco Scaglia & Paul Wertico entitled Free The Opera!; a DVD & CD by David Cain & Paul Wertico entitled Feast For The Senses; and six releases by the band, Wertico Cain & Gray: a DVD & CD entitled Sound Portraits, which won “Best Live Performance Album” in the 13th Annual Independent Music Awards (2014); WCG’s second CD entitled Out In SPACE; WCG’s second DVD & third CD entitled Organic Architecture; WCG’s fourth CD & downloadable video release entitled Realization, which was nominated for “Best Live Performance Album” and “Best Long Form Video” in the 15th Annual Independent Music Awards (2016); WCG’s fifth CD entitled Short Cuts – 40 Improvisations, and WCG’s sixth CD entitled AfterLive.

Wertico has played drums and percussion on countless recordings for other artists, including Paul Winter’s 1990 Grammy nominated release, Earth: Voices Of A Planet, and he’s played on, as well as produced, a number of CDs for various artists, including four of vocalist Kurt Elling’s Grammy nominated releases: Close Your EyesThe MessengerThis Time It’s Love, and Man In The Air.

In addition to winning numerous awards as a member of the Pat Metheny Group, Wertico was also voted “Fusion Drummer Of The Year” in DRUM!magazine’s Reader’s Poll and he placed in the “Top Five in the Electric Jazz Category” in Modern Drummer magazine’s Reader’s Polls. He’s been featured on the covers of Drum Tracks magazine and Modern Drummer magazine, as well as on international drum publications such as Italy’s Percussioni, Belgium’s Belgo Beat, Poland’s PerQsja, and South America’s Bateristas al Sur. Wertico has also been one of the featured clinicians at several Percussive Arts Society International Conventions as well as the 1997 Modern Drummer Drum Festival. He’s also the inventor of TUBZ, made by Pro-Mark.

For two years, he hosted his own radio show entitled Paul Wertico’s Wild World Of Jazz, a two-hour showcase of modern and traditional jazz across all its styles and forms, each program featured a mix of classic tracks and best-kept-secrets, legendary artists and local heroes, live and in-studio recordings, new releases, and one-of-a-kind gems from his private collection. As Musical Director for the crowdsourced TV video series, Inventing The Future, Paul was nominated for a 2012-2013 Emmy Award in the “Outstanding Achievement In Interactivity” category by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Midwest Chapter.

A world-class, all-around drummer, it is ultimately in the context of his own renegade groups that Wertico has revealed the most about his musicality and philosophy of drumming while also pushing the envelope on risk-taking. “Questing and innovative, Wertico has become one of the most respected fusion drummers of his generation.”

Awards

Seven Grammy Awards with the Pat Metheny Group; Chicagoan of the Year, Chicago Tribune, 2004; Fusion Drummer of the Year, DRUM! magazine readers’ poll, 1997; Lifetime Achievement Award, Cape Breton International Drum Festival, 2010; Lifetime Achievement Award, Montréal Drum Fest, 2010; Emmy Award nomination, Outstanding Achievement in Interactivity, Inventing the Future, 2012–2013; Best Live Performance Album, (Wertico Cain & Gray’s) Sound Portraits, 13th Annual Independent Music Awards, 2014; Best Live Performance Album nomination, (Wertico Cain & Gray’s) Realization, 15th Annual Independent Music Awards, 2016; Best Long Form Video nomination, (Wertico Cain & Gray’s) Realization, 15th Annual Independent Music Awards, 2016.

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