It was 13 years ago when drummer Wally Schnalle decided to chuck his day job in the Silicone Valley to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz drummer. He was 28 then, entering San Jose State to study jazz performance and graduating summa cum laude. Today, he’s the proud leader on two CDs, he has his own record label, plays major jazz festivals, is busy most nights with club dates, he gives private drum lessons, and he still finds time to teach percussion at an arts magnet school through his California Arts Council artist-in-residence grant while also working as music editor for Drum! magazine.
That’s the resumé for a pretty unique guy—and his name even rhymes.
“When I hit 28, I decided that I’d better get on with what I really wanted to do with my life,” recalled Schnalle, from his home in Campbell, California. “I would have hated to have died and never given it a shot. And every year has gotten better in terms of the gigs I do.”
His newest release, Why Do They Call You That?, is on his Retlaw label (Walter, spelled backwards) with his quintet that’s been together for three years: Dann Zinn on tenor, John Worley on trumpet, with Murray Low on piano and bassist Tom Bockhold. “The fact that we’re still together makes me proud. We all know where we’re headed and it brings our music to a higher level.”
Schnalle describes his music as the fusing of elements from different cultures and different styles, citing Jack DeJohnette as an all-time influence. “My music is the product of all my experiences and interests, run through my musical filter,” he said. “I almost want to use the word ‘fusion,’ but in its most positive sense.”
Schnalle’s handle, by the way, is really Walter Rodney Schnalle, III. “My dad was always ‘Walt,’ but I never felt like one,” he recalled. “I was always Wally. People tend to remember my name when they hear it; I guess I’ve just been blessed—or cursed—with it.”