Peter Erskine: Straight Ahead

The Swinging Versatility of a Young Veteran

During the production of the DVD, "Legends of Jazz Drumming
Volume Two, I had the honor of spending a good deal of time with
Roy Haynes. During the course of our conversation, I realized that
here was a guy who played with Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker,
Chick Corea and Pat Metheny, among many others from various
eras and genres.

I've often wondered, who could do that today?

The answer, for one, is Peter Erskine.

Though several generations removed from Roy Haynes (Erskine's
career began in the 1970s), you've got to hand it to a player who
worked--very well--with everyone from Kenton and Maynard to
Weather Report and Steely Dan.

And that's just the tip of iceberg. This Grammy winning
percussionist, author and educator has recorded more than 500
albums. With just about everyone.

Those of us who have closely followed his career, viewed his four
instructional videos, read his eight books and have listened to him
for years take it for granted that he'll always be consistent and
always be great.

After listening to the new CD, Frank Macchia's "Folk Songs for
Jazzers," which I've reviewed for Jazz Times, I, for one, will never
take Peter Erskine for granted again.

On this refreshing project, the drummer negotiates just about
every rhythm there is with a level of ease, joy and happiness that
jumps out at the listener.

What is particularly joyous is that Erskine gets to return to his
straight-ahead roots on the novel arrangements of "Skip to My Lou"
(what brush work), the loping, Oliver Nelson like chart on "Oh
Susanna;" and the shouting, Mingus-like waltz, "Did You Ever See a

And what a rousing ending on the Ray Charles-like arrangement of
"On Top of Old Smokey." There aren't a lot of drummers who
could negotiate a tempo like that and make it swing.

In a recent email, Peter mentioned that he's been listening more,
these days, to legends like Krupa, Mel Lewis, Don Lamond and
the criminally neglected Nick Ceroli. What ever rhythm or style
Erskine plays in on this project, I'm hearing a real respect for those
traditions in his playing.

As a drummer myself, I've always been very, very aware of the
sound of drums on recordings. There are many fine jazz drummers
out there, but I'm hearing, too, too often, drums that sound like Keith

It's like the old routine comic Robert Klein did about when the high
school marching band that played an arrangement of "A Night in

But the sound of Peter Erskine's drums and cymbals on this
recording, to my ears at least, are the way drums are supposed to
sound. I'm sure the engineer had something to do with it, but
one doesn't get that sound on a recording unless the sound is
there to begin with.

The drum sound is also superior on the many recordings he's
done for his own, Fuzzy Music label.

For more information on Peter Erkskine's activities, and they
are considerable, visit his website at

Keep swingin', man!

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Bruce Klauber