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The Morning News - August 1, 2008

Listen Here! Wertico Dances on Drums

Jazz Performer In it for the Adventure and the Fun

By Antoinette Grajeda

Adventure is defined differently for everyone. It can be flying across the country on your own or climbing to the top of Mount Everest. For drummer Paul Wertico, adventure happens every time he sits behind the cymbals with a new group of musicians.

Wertico will be taking the next step in his musical journey when he plays as part of the KUAF Summer Jazz Series at 8 p.m. today at the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.

The musician has spent recent years traveling the world, performing as a guest drummer with a variety of artists. Although the ritual of salutations and minimal rehearsal times is similar at each engagement, the outcome is always different, which Wertico loves.

"There's that sense of newness and sense of danger, I guess, which is great," he says.

Wertico's adventure into the world of music began as a child in Cary, Ill., when his mother suggested he take up an instrument - but not the drums. The young musician joined the school band and played the only instrument that interested him - the drums. He learned to play quite quickly, much to his surprise.

"I played them instinctively, which was weird. So I guess it was just meant to be," he says.

A few years later, Wertico was playing professionally and in 1983, he joined the Pat Metheny Group. All of his hard work paid off when he won his first Grammy with the group.

"That was one of those things I can remember where I was," he says - across the Atlantic in an English hotel with the Pat Metheny Group. The drummer didn't make it to the awards ceremony, but simply winning "was pretty amazing."

Six more golden statuettes have followed, but Wertico admits that first one holds a special place in his memories.

"It's always great, but I don't think anything's the same as the first time," he says.

After 18 years of performing with the band, Wertico left the group, and in recent years he has performed as a guest drummer. He says he has nothing but good memories of his time with the trio, but he enjoys having a different performance each night.

"I really like the adventure part of it again," he says. "That's why I started playing music to begin with, to go into the unknown."

As a drummer, he says he has the "responsibility of keeping the band together and making them sound better," but even with that important task on his shoulders, he doesn't forget to enjoy himself.

"When I think of playing music, the emphasis is on 'play,'" he says.

Wertico describes playing the drums as "dancing" on the instrument and says it's an amazing feeling when he can cause emotion in the audience. After one performance, a woman in the audience sought out Wertico and said she just wanted to see if the drumset had a heartbeat.

"That was like the best compliment," he says.

Not all are as excited about jazz as that audience member. Sometimes people are afraid of jazz, but they should try to look past that, Wertico says. Jazz is joyous when it's performed correctly.

"When it's really done right, it can be powerful, funny, it can make you cry," he says. "That's what it's really about."

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