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Up Close and Personal with Peter Erskine

JazzReview.com: Can you discuss your original influences and what drew you to the drums?

Peter Erskine: I've wanted to play the drums as far back as I can recall. The first music that I can remember listening to included recordings my father had of Art Blakey, Henry Mancini, Tito Puente, Esquivel (!), Julie London, Les Baxter, Martin Denny (!) and the Stan Kenton Orchestra. I began taking drum lessons at the age of five, and my teacher introduced me to the drumming of Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Gene Krupa, and then (later) Elvin Jones, Charlie Persip, Don Lamond, Mel Lewis, and Grady Tate. I then discovered Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Marty Morrell, Donald MacDonald, Bernard "Pretty" Purdie ... and the list goes on and on from there. I also studied piano, organ, and the trumpet, plus "legit" percussion. I was fortunate enough to be told at an early age to "always listen to every kind of music." Good advice.

JazzReview.com: The importance of understanding time and its interrelationships (subdivisions) and being able to feel a new groove and pick it up easily.

Peter Erskine: Well ... I devote most of my latest book "The Drum Perspective" (published by Hal Leonard) on this very topic. Essentially, just about anyone can "play" the drums, or get a note on an instrument. One note follows the other. And so on ... however, it's the spaces between the notes that determine the "feel" of the music. Subdivisions define the "feel" and style of each and every music. If a musician is not hearing or honoring those subdivisions, then they are merely enunciating sounds on their instrument ... this is not the same thing as truly making music.

JazzReview.com: Your experiences with Jaco...

Peter Erskine: Jaco was one of the most incredible musicians I've ever known. He could make music on any instrument. He WAS music ... a musical being. And, he was a lot of fun. His rhythmic, harmonic and melodic sense(s) were nothing short of phenomenal. His TIME was incredible. It was an honor to play with him ... and we all miss him.

JazzReview.com: The Weather Report gig...

Peter Erskine: It was great. Weather Report was the beginning of my true, or adult, musical education. It was also a lot of fun, and it opened all sorts of doors, awareness-wise as well as career-wise, for me. Eventually, I had to leave in order to discover my own voice, and to develop my sense of touch on the instrument. Moving to New York for five years was the continuation of the lessons I began to learn in that group. Some of those records still sound pretty good to me, though.

JazzReview.com: Your philosophy on music, teaching, life and any similarities and/or things you've found that would be helpful to others (musicians, etc.).

Peter Erskine: LISTEN to music. Learn to TRUST music, and trust yourself, so that you may better SERVE the music. If a musician truly listens to the music he or she is playing, it will tell you most everything you need to know. Many musicians limit their hearing or listening to what they themselves are playing, NOT the music in its entirety. At least that's my impression. Also, it's good to remember the original inspiration that brought you to music in the first place, and always try to hold onto that passion. This is pretty much what I try to teach, as well as the notion that making music is actually a lot simpler than most people think, and that it's good to remain grateful for what it is we do in life.

JazzReview.com: Your method of approaching composition...

Peter Erskine: I think about music a lot. Sometimes, a melody or harmonic scheme will sort of just "pop" into my head. Other times, I work at a keyboard (either the acoustic piano, or a synthesizer connected to my Macintosh computer w/ sequencer) and put ideas together; once I get started, the "story" seems to grow on its own. I like melodies.

JazzReview.com: What inspires you to write and perform?

Peter Erskine: My wife and children, most of all. And the sheer pleasure of putting notes together. I enjoy the process of recording, doing my best to ensure that a project will be successful, and that the artist or producer or composer, etc., (even the engineer) are all smiling at the end of the date. But, pretty much, good music is its own reward.

JazzReview.com: Current equipment...

Peter Erskine: Yamaha drums, Maple Absolute: 18" or 22" bass drum, 10 + 12" toms, 14x14" floor tom, and either a 4x14 maple snare or the Yamaha Bamboo snare (my current favorite), plus my signature 4X10" "Sopranino" snare drum ... I prefer the lighter weight hardware of Yamaha's (e.g., 600 series for cymbal stands); cymbals are Zildjian ... 21" Constantinople "Big Band Ride," 20" Custom Dry Light Ride, 22" Swish Knocker, 18" K Crash, occasionally an 18" K Ride with 3 rivets, and various splash or effect cymbals; 14" New beat hi-hats; Evans heads (G1 tom heads, Uno58 for the snare, EQ1 or Uno58 (18" kick) for the bass drum; Vic Firth "Peter Erskine Ride Stick" signature model; LP and RhythmTech percussion instruments; and Shure microphones.

JazzReview.com: The Bass Desires sessions, gigs and how you came to write the title track (great tune, too).

Peter Erskine: Bassist Marc Johnson put that band together one night for a gig in New York (with guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell), and shortly thereafter we were in the studio in New York (Power Station, now known as Avatar, where I'm working this week with Diana Krall), recording for Manfred Eicher's ECM label. By the end of the first day, we realized that we might be a tune or two shy of having a complete album's worth of music, so I brought that tune ("Bass Desires") in, and the band learned it right away and recorded it. I came up with some of the melody by playing around on my (1985) Macintosh computer (512K model); there was a very simple music program which would take a melody or tone row and flip it, invert it (retrograde, etc.), and I simply put together some of these fragments ... also added a Wayne Shorter-esque phrase to tie it all together. Most recent recording of that tune is on the Hudson Project video and CD, with John Abercrombie, Bob Mintzer and John Patitucci ... also just recorded it with a new trio I'm playing with which includes French musicians (guitarist) Nguyen Le and (bassist) Michel Benita; that group is called "Trio E_L_B," and that record will be coming out in the spring of 2001 on the ACT label. I have recorded 15 albums for ECM, 4 of them as a leader.

JazzReview.com: Can you discuss the new trio you're working with?

Peter Erskine: The "new" piano trio is comprised of myself, pianist Alan Pasqua and bassist Dave Carpenter. Our most recent recording is "Live at Rocco," available from Fuzzy Music (the record label my wife and I started a few years ago). I can honestly say that this recording has some of my best playing on it ... "best" because I love playing with Alan and Dave so much. (Alan and I were roommates in college, and I've known him for 30 years!). This trio can swing hard, but it can also play whisper-soft, and there's a lot of space in the music.

JazzReview.com: What's coming up in the near future for you

Peter Erskine: I have been very busy with a number of recording projects, including: singers Diana Krall, Kate Bush (and Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, and even Christina Aguilera), Kurt Elling ... a lot of film dates ... I am going to Germany in March to work with the great WDR (German radio) Big Band, playing the music of Thelonius Monk; working very hard on a composing commission from the BBC, "Music for Brass and Percussion," and so I seem to have that music in my head a lot lately. Also working hard to complete 2 new books for the Alfred Music Publishing company: "Time Awareness for All Musicians," and a Beginner's drum method ... Newest recording on Fuzzy Music is "The London Concert" by the Don Grolnick Group. If I may quote from my website (petererskine.com ... I encourage any of your readers to please visit my site for the latest news, information, some fun photos to check out in the Photo Gallery, etc. Anyway ... my wife and I are keeping very busy in this department as well, doing our best to promote the CD, and answering the growing number of internet inquiries and sales related to the CD ... "The world of music lost one of its true poets when Don Grolnick passed away in 1996. Fortunately, his art lives on through his writing and recordings ... No more exciting example of both exists, perhaps, than this "Live" recording made in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall during what turned out to be Don's final jazz tour. Be "there" with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Marty Ehrlich, Robin Eubanks, Peter Washington, Peter Erskine and Don Alias, as the lucky audience was (along with the microphones of the BBC) when this once-in-a-lifetime band played what could rightly be called "their finest hour." SPECIAL EDITION FUZZY MUSIC RELEASE. Sales proceeds to go directly to The Cure for Lymphoma Foundation in Don Grolnick's memory and name."

JazzReview.com: Thanks for spreading the word for this worthy cause and excellent CD.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Peter Erskine
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