Jazz en Dominicana interviews Peter Erskine

Get ready Dominican Republic - Peter Erskine New Trio is on the way

Jazz en Dominicana interviews Peter Erskine

As promised, our last of three interviews prior to the upcoming Peter Erskine New Trio concert featuring Damian Erskine & Vardan Ovsepian to be held in Santo Domingo on July 28th concert would be with Peter Erskine; the previous two with Damian Erskine and Vardan Ovsepian.

Peter began his professional career with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1972, 3 years later joined Maynard Ferguson and in 1978 Weather Report forming a formidable rhythm section with legendary bassist Jaco Pastorious, after 5 years with WR he joined Steps Ahead. His big band recordings with the Bob Mintzer Big Band are excellent modern big band jazz/funk studied by many students of drums and drumming. His playing style is characterized by a thorough dedication to time-keeping and swing, a great dynamic spectrum and an ability to play several styles of music very sensitively. These qualities may be the reason for his very wide use as a session drummer in musical settings of great variety. Hence he could also be labeled as an "all-around drummer", in terms of musical styles he is capable of playing with skill.

Jazz en Dominicana (JenD): Peter, thanks for taking time from your busy schedule in order to answer our questions for your fans in the Dominican Republic. How and when did you start playing?
Peter Erskine (PE): My pleasure. I have played the drums all of my life and began taking lessons when I was five.

JenD: How did you get into Jazz?
PE: My father, who was a bass player before he became a psychiatrist, always played jazz around the house, so I heard this music from an early age. I preferred jazz to children’s music.

JenD: What were your studies like? Where?
PE: I studied every summer at the Stan Kenton summer jazz camps, where other students included the likes of Keith Jarrett, Don Grolnick, Randy Brecker and David Sanborn! These camps were popular and important before jazz became a normal part of regular school studies…in the “old days,” jazz was not taught in so many schools, but the summer camps helped to change that. I then studied classical and jazz percussion at Interlochen, the famous arts centre in Michigan. I also studied at Indiana University. I was always listening to the music, and was always dreaming of playing jazz when I grew up. I am a lucky man, for I am living
my dream.

JenD: Which are your favorite genres to play? And, how has your playing evolved through the years?
PE: Jazz, especially in Trio like I will be playing in Santo Domingo. Over the years, my playing has become more clear as I have learned more and more to play purely for the song. Confidence comes with age.

JenD: You’ve played with a myriad of stars, a Who’s Who in the Jazz world as part of Weather Report; Steps Ahead, Diana Krall and many more - what were those experiences like?
PE: My two greatest drumming influences are Elvin Jones and Mel Lewis. Playing with all of the groups/artists mentioned were great: exciting, instructive, and it seems somehow that each experience would lead or connect to the next one. I consider myself a very fortunate musician.

JenD: We always ask for musicians of your stature to share your views of the influences that Latin America and its culture and rhythms are having on Jazz today.
PE: Jazz has always been a “fusion” music, and the music of Central and South America - and the Caribbean - have always played a strong an important part of the music’s development. The best jazz has always kept an open ear and an open heart to these other musics. Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Weather Report - all of these musical giants recognized and embraced Afro-Caribbean and Latin American musics.

JenD: What are you more comfortable with in your playing?
PE: I like to play many styles of music and I am most comfortable speaking a mixed vocabulary. That said, I like for the music to swing … but it can swing in many different styles! Our New Trio will be a good demonstration of this.

JenD: How did you come up with the New Trio featuring Damian and Vardan?
PE: I discovered Vardan by way of a recommendation from guitarist Mick Goodrick in Boston. Vardan is an incredibly talented pianist and composer with a unique harmonic and melodic vocabulary. We have done recordings and concerts in Los Angeles and I always enjoy his playing. Damian is my nephew and he has become one of the most sought-after bassists in the USA. This is our first tour together. I put the trio together like any good chef combines ingredients: the final result should have balance as well as excitement, and I believe this New Trio will accomplish as much every night.

JenD: Drummer, composer, educator, director – one person, many hats – how do you make time for all of them? Which do you prefer and why?
PE: I do not sleep so much! I love what I do. And my wife is a huge help in keeping me healthy and focused.

JenD: What do you enjoy more: Classes, Workshops, Concerts, Recording, Playing, Touring? Composing or playing?
PE: MAKING MUSIC … all of the above, sometimes! Ultimately, playing … but I compose when I play! So it’s all music, all of the time … I cannot put these things into separate boxes.

JenD: Any new projects in the burner?
PE: My record label FUZZMUSIC is releasing a follow-up album to our Grammy nominated “STANDARDS” CD, this one called “Standards 2, Movie Music,” featuring Bob Mintzer, Alan Pasqua and Darek Oles. I also plan to record with this New Trio.

JenD: Tell us of your experiences with the New Trio?
PE: The concert in Santo Domingo will be the world premiere performance of the New Trio! We have existed only in rehearsal and in my dreams … both places = the band sounds great. I am finally coming into my own as a bandleader who recognizes and promotes new and great young talent. This feels good.

JenD: What’s to come for Peter Erskine?
PE: (Smiles) More music, more concerts, more songs, more albums and more successful students

JenD: You will be playing in Santo Domingo this upcoming July 26th as you kick off the second concert of the World Jazz Circuit Latin America.
PE: I am excited and looking forward to the visit! I am excited and honored to be part of this concert event. And it is always a thrill to visit and discover a new place …

JenD: What do you expect for this concert?
PE: I expect for the Trio to be musical as well as entertaining. People will leave our performance as satisfied as enjoying a good meal, I hope. We will play compositions from all 3 members of the group, and there will be excellent group interaction as well as soloing moments. I am very much looking forward to playing in concert with my nephew. And Vardan will surprise people; he is a new piano star. We have prepared some old AND new music! I hope that people will listen and that they will like it!

JenD: Let´s play ¨Odds and Ends¨ and throw out the first thing that comes into your mind:
Peter Erskine — fortunate
The Drums — good friends
Weather Report — the place where I truly got my music degree
USC Thorton School of Music — a place to teach others; our jazz and drumming departments are making educational history with some innovations right now; a strong magnet that attracts excellent young musicians…
Favorite recording by other musician? John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”
Favorite recording by Peter Erskine? The next one! (For an already-released recording, my favorite is either “The Avatar Sessions” or “Standards,” both available from Fuzz Music at fuzzymusic.com)

And with those last few comments we ended the interview.

Get ready Dominican Republic – In Peter Erskine’s words ¨This concert in Santo Domingo will be the world premiere performance of the New Trio - the Trio will be musical as well as entertaining. People will leave our performance as satisfied as enjoying a good meal!!!¨

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Fernando Rodriguez