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Peter Erskine Remembers John Abercrombie

Drummer pays homage to his old friend, the inventive guitarist

Photo of John Abercrombie Quartet
(L to R] Peter Erskine, John Abercrombie, Michael Brecker, Marc Johnson (photo by Rick Laird)

The guitarist John Abercrombie was probably the most interesting and compelling musician I’ve played with, and one of the funniest, too. Early morning departures were always more bearable when John would offer an observation like: “You know, there’s nothing like a good cup of coffee in the morning — and this is nothing like a good cup of coffee.” Manfred Eicher became “My Man, Fred.” “I’ll be right back” became “I’ll be white black.” And so on. But his music making was totally serious and uncompromising.

One time, when the trio [with John, Marc Johnson and Erskine] finished its first set of a week-long stint at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase in Chicago, and after some bewilderingly modern-sounding stuff, Joe Segal got up to announce the coming attractions, punctuated with a “Be sure to come back next week to hear some REAL music” admonishment to the audience. I was talking to some friends when I heard this, reacting by saying, “Hey Joe, come on!” and Joe replied, “Don’t you ‘come on’ me; we’re going to have a talk about this as soon as I’m done announcing up here,” which was followed by a challenge issued from Marc Johnson: “Why don’t we have an open discussion about it right here and now?” The audience started to get in on the act, cat-calling and the like. John really had it out with Joe after that in the lobby. All was made well when we agreed to include at least one Charlie Parker tune during each set.

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