Alan Pasqua: Keys That Unlock Many Doors

Jim Worsley By

Sign in to view read count
There is a reason that jazz is no longer popular in our country... if parents are just playing Ariana Grande for their babies, then that is what the child is going to gravitate towards.
—Alan Pasqua
Recently, and just a few days before Thanksgiving (2019), I was thankful for the opportunity to have two separate conversations with renown pianist Alan Pasqua. As generous with his time and candid commentary as he is talented as a musician and composer, both conversations crashed the one-hour mark. For you non mathematicians, that is over two hours of discussing, recounting, and engaging into a wide range of topics.

With that in mind I will keep this intro brief and get on with it. Pasqua is refreshingly frank in sharing his thoughts and opinions on our declining jazz culture and what we need to do to remedy it. He offers engaging insights into the careers and personal traits of legends Tony Williams, Bob Dylan, and Peter Erskine, among others. We, of course, discussed the many, and I do mean many, aspects of his accomplished and now lengthy career. There are also a lot of laughs along the way. It was a very enjoyable and enlightening conversation (well, actually two, but we've been down that road). I hope you enjoy the good speak as much as we did.

All About Jazz: Alan, you have compiled an impressive body of work over the past few decades. Most notably in a wide spectrum of jazz genres, as well as fusion, rock, and pop. Also noteworthy is that you excel and never seem like a fish out of water on any of it. I'm not a big fan of labels, but having said that, I suppose my question is, do you at your core, or in your heart, feel that you are a jazz musician that also stretches into other genres, or do you take it all in at an equal measure?

Alan Pasqua: I think I take it all in equal proportions. I grew up as a young boy in New Jersey and studied classically as a kid. I played in rock bands in high school. I was interested in jazz at an early age. Being exposed to all of that music early on, it became sort of a natural transition from one to the other. The reason that I have been able to retain some level of success is because I knew which hat to be wearing for which gig or which occasion. The best example is after I left college and I played with Tony Williams. My first gig in L.A. was from the producer for the two Tony Williams Lifetime albums that I was involved in. I believe it was Bruce Botnick. He was, at the time, a staff producer for CBS Records. He called me and said that he had been assigned a new artist, was producing his record, and asked if I wanted to be involved and play some keys on it. I said sure and went on over to his office. In his office was this guy named Eddie Money. Bruce had prepped him on what I had done. So, the first words out of Eddie's mouth were, "Okay Al, I don't want to hear any of that jazz shit."

AAJ: (Laughing) That's classic.

AP: (Laughing) Yeah, so you know, I just got it. There was a little piano in the office, and he played "Baby Hold on to Me" and "Two Tickets to Paradise." Then he said, "Man, can you play that?" I just sat down and played them exactly like he did. He said. "Okay Al, you got the gig." So, I have always embraced any rock or pop gigs with the same fervor as jazz gigs.

AAJ: Let's talk about your early music influences and which artists you were listening to as a kid and teenager.

AP: In classical music, I liked impressionistic music. I liked Baroque. I liked Bach and Ravel. I was especially interested in some of the Russian composers, such as Rachmaninoff. By no means was I a great classical pianist. I could read, and I could certainly play, but that is really a pretty diverse spectrum. It has wholeheartedly been applied to my jazz work.

AAJ: How old were you when all this started?

AP: I started playing piano at age seven. So, it's been sixty years now. As far as jazz goes, oh man, early on it was big band recordings and the Oscar Peterson Trio. One record in particular, by Horace Silver, called Blowin' The Blues Away (Blue Note, 1959). That's a great record. My dad was a musician, a bassist. We used to go to Cornet, which was kind of like Target. They had a big record section. We would go buy vinyl.

AAJ: Wow, I remember Cornet. I hadn't thought of that store in forever.

AP: We got home one night and had a record called Jazz Track (Columbia, 1959). I didn't pick it out and my dad said that he didn't either. But I think he kind of tricked me on that one. It was the 1958 Miles Davis sessions with the sextet. John Coltrane, Cannonball (Julian Adderley), and Bill Evans. I put it on, and I heard the intro to "On Green Dolphin Street." One side of this record was that song "Stella by Starlight" and "Put your Little Foot Forward." The other side was the soundtrack that Miles wrote for that French movie (Ascenseur Pour Lechafaud). It was really dark and really cool. But I remember hearing the piano intro on "On Green Dolphin Street" and thinking, "What the hell is this?" That was the first time I ever heard Coltrane. His solo on that still raises the hair on my arms. That record changed everything for me. In rock, I was not a Beatles guy so much, but I liked a lot of the British bands. I liked the Dave Clark Five, a song like "Glad All Over" and The Byrds. Then the heavy kind of organ bands like Spooky Tooth, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who. I didn't like Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Yes.

AAJ: Not so much into the prog rock stuff.

AP: I really like the heavy stuff. Steppenwolf and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

AAJ: That's cool that you took in all those genres.

AP: Well, I think that is why I was able to play on so many rock and pop records and get in on a lot of tours. Playing with Santana was cool because there was actually a lot of improvisation. I played a lot with Bob Dylan. That was very cool. I felt right at home with all of it.

AAJ: Being so versatile opened up many opportunities for you to play. I was going to ask if you grew up in a musical family. You have pretty much already answered that in stating that your dad was a bassist.

AP: My grandpa was a piano builder for Aeolian Pianos in New Jersey. Then my dad was born in Newark and became a bassist. My older brother, Mike, also played the piano. So, music was just around.

AAJ: If you weren't playing it, you were listening to it.

AP: Yeah, exactly. We had all the Frank Sinatra stuff and Basie (Count Basie) and all the big band stuff. Then when I went to college, luckily, Thad Jones was one of my teachers my first year.

AAJ: Wow, what a way to start out on that journey.

AP: It was incredible.

AAJ: Jazz was so much more a part of our culture back then. I had the same experience growing up with the big bands and the Oscar Peterson Trio on my parents seventy-eight rpm records.

AP: I have always maintained, and I know I'm right about this, that the reason that jazz is no longer a popular music in our country, but it is in Europe, in Asia, in China, in Japan, is because they play the music for children. Kids hear it and they respond to it just like we did. The first time I saw live jazz I saw the Buddy Rich Big Band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I just remember, like, "Holy crap, what is this?" It was so exciting and fun. I was maybe about seven years old. That's where I got hooked. If parents are just playing Ariana Grande for their babies, then that is what a child is going to grow up and gravitate towards.

AAJ: That's so true, and very well said. It has been a topic of concern for me for some time now that America's music is popular, respected, and appreciated all over the world, except for here in America.

AP: The fact that jazz can't even be represented on live television on the Grammys. There is just something wrong about that.

AAJ: Oh yeah, that really pisses me off.

AP: Yeah, me too!

AAJ: Steve Gadd finally wins a Grammy and it isn't even mentioned. I mean, what the f... is that?

AP: Yeah, I just don't have any time or patience for any of that nonsense. I've always been outspoken about it, and I really don't care what people think. I know that what I say is the truth.

AAJ: It is the truth.

AP: This country would be in a much better place if they would prioritize the arts in school as much as they do literature and math and all these other skills. It has to start in the schools. We can't rely on the parents if they are illiterate about it. They're not going to go out and buy a copy of Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) and give it to their kid and say, "Here Junior, check this out, we hear this is good for you." That's never going to happen. It could be something as seemingly insignificant as an assembly at an elementary school that has jazz artists playing. It might just touch ten kids that would not normally be exposed to that culture.

AAJ: Yeah, well I appreciate you speaking out on this. I think it's important that jazz doesn't get lost for future generations. As it stands now, it is just part of what is referred to as the dumbing down of America. Let's move on and talk about your college days.

AP: I graduated high school in 1970 and went to Indiana University for two years. That's where I met Peter Erskine. We were roommates in 1971 in a farmhouse out in Bloomington. So, we go back that far. We played in a few different bands together and hung out and did a lot of stuff together. We had a great connection very quickly. He split and went on the road with Stan Kenton and I transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. I had met the great Jaki Byard. I spent an afternoon playing with him in Boston and he encouraged me to come to Boston and study with him. I saw that as an incredible opportunity. I went there for two years and studied with Jaki and Thad Jones and George Russell. George introduced me to Sheila Jordan. We also did one of his commissioned pieces called Living Time (Columbia, 1972), for small big bands and the Bill Evans Trio. An incredible suite of music. He wound up getting a performance at Carnegie Hall and brought some of us college students down with him to supplement the New York orchestra. I was fortunate to be one of them.

AAJ: Fortunate, indeed.

AP: Yeah, it was incredible. I knew that record and really knew that music. I knew that Tony Williams, Snooky (Snooky Young), and Joe Henderson were on the record. Bill Evans was too, of course, but he had already passed. I got to play electric piano and clavinet. They told me to set up right behind those yellow drums.

AAJ: Man, that had to be surreal setting up by TW's kit.

AP: It absolutely was. Amazing.

AAJ: You mentioned earlier playing with Tony Williams Lifetime after that. You recorded two records with TW, along with Allan Holdsworth, and Tony Newton. The first of which, Believe It(Columbia, 1975), is considered by many to be the best, or at least one of the best, fusion records of all time. Did you all have any sense that you were on to something big and creating a very special and unique record at the time?

AP: Not at all. Really not at all. After I played the gig in New York for George Russell I was living in Cape Cod. One day I got home, and my roommate told me that Tony had just called and wants you to call him. I thought he was kidding. So, I called him, and he said he was putting a band together and wondered if I would consider coming to New York and do some playing. I asked him when and he said, "Now." That night I packed and headed back to New York. I got to Tony's place in Harlem and met Allan Holdsworth. He was already there. Unbeknown to me, Allan had also played at the George Russell Living Time concert. The three of us formed a little unit and then Tony mentioned that he wanted to check out this bassist from Detroit named Tony Newton. So, then he joined the band. The record was done in two days. No overdubs, no fixes. Most of everything was a first take. Only a couple of second takes. It was just raw, live, here we go.

AAJ: Such a great record. I appreciate you sharing all that background. Tony was much like Miles in the sense that he was always looking forward and looking for fresh young talented players. Not wanting to stay in the moment. To move on and doing something else.

AP: Yes, the truly great artists aren't looking to recreate what they have done. They are looking to find the next big step. I would ask Tony when we were on the road together if on one night, if we could just play anything straight ahead. He said, "Absolutely not." (laughing).

AAJ: (laughing) Of course you knew that would be his answer.

AP: Yeah, one night he interrupted one of my solos and broke into the famous walking Tony swing from the quintet. It just took my breath away. I was like, "What?" I looked over at him, and he just stopped playing and started laughing.

AAJ: That's great. He must have been a kick to play with.

AP: Yeah, Tony was totally mischievous.

AAJ: Sadly, we lost Tony over twenty-two years ago. In retrospect, what are the biggest takeaways and/or memories of playing and knowing Tony? Can you give us an insight into what Tony was like, both personally, and to play with?

AP: I think he was to me, in a lot of ways, the same to me as Miles was to him. He never told me what to play. In the same way Miles would not tell the guys what to do. He would make conceptual suggestions. He was a really great composer. It bugged him that people just thought of him as a great drummer. One of the best songs on Believe It was "Wildlife," which is Tony's composition. Also was probably the best Holdsworth solo.

AAJ: Yeah well, later on Wilderness (ARK 21, 1996) really showcased his composing abilities. So, on the personal level, he was easy to get along with and hang out with?

AP: Yeah, he was misunderstood a bit. He became famous at such an early age, and rightfully so. But, you know, everybody wanted a piece of him, and I think he really felt like he was misunderstood. I think a lot of people maybe missed the boat on what he was really about.

AAJ: Perhaps the downside of being in that second great quintet at such an early age. Ready for it as a musician, but maybe a bit much outside of that.

AP: Yeah, nobody could be ready for that. That's a tall order for anyone. He was a really good guy to me. He was very funny and very kind.

AAJ: Million Dollar Legs (Columbia, 1976) was the second and only other recording by that ensemble, yes?

AP: Yeah, Allan had some problems and went back to England after that. We had another guitarist for a bit, but Tony just wasn't really into it at that point. There was some good stuff on that record. Kind of hit and miss. Some really awful stuff too.

AAJ: There were pieces there that were great but not the entire record like Believe It.

AP: Yeah, Tony was trying to go a bit more commercial on Million Dollar Legs. The elements of the band that were trying to write more commercial just wasn't working right. It didn't come off right.

AAJ: Yeah, it didn't sound like the full-on fusion of Believe It. More like holding back a bit.

AP: Yes, that's exactly right.

AAJ: Later your respect for him and his music was shared in the emotionally powerful live recording of Blues for Tony(Moonjune Records, 2009) with Holdsworth and, if I remember right, Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman.

AP: That's right.

AAJ: That record transcended the tribute mode and became its own entity of four cats playing fusion that were just really going for it. Was that experience wistful or joyful or perhaps a little bit of both?

AP: Yeah, I think it was both. I had met an Italian promoter and was asking him about doing something in Europe. I mentioned the idea of doing something with Holdsworth and he got pretty excited about that idea. Then I ran into Chad in Copenhagen. Jimmy is a dear old friend, so the four us got together and did a few things. We did two recordings. One is Live at Yoshi's. We did a video and audio recording there. That was the beginning of that band. We did a tour of Europe, a three-week run. On the last night we played in Germany and a recording was done at the venue. I was given the recording and had kind of just shelved it. Later on, I listened to it, and it turned out to be the best the band had ever sounded. It was really loose and in that spirit of Believe It. We were really going for it. We weren't trying to recreate anything. It was just a natural outcropping of the band playing together night after night trying to see where it would go. I shared it with the guys, and we were all in agreement that we put it out. I'm very happy that we did.

AAJ: I am too. It's a great record.

AP: It's really an honest tribute to Tony. It wasn't done for any other reason.

AAJ: Well, I would think that is what he would have wanted and appreciated most is that you went out there and laid it on the table. Just like he always did.

AP: I think so too. We really found our stride on that tour.

AAJ: Prior to Tony's impact on your life, you were greatly influenced by your mentor, Jaki Byard. I have heard the sentiment and respect you speak with when talking about the outstanding pianist and teacher. It would be great to hear you talk about Jaki. Why he was so special to you? A memory or two that stand out in your mind. Anything and everything you would like to share.

AP: Sure, I met him by accident. A friend of mine who was attending the New England Conservatory needed an organ player for a gig he had. So, I grabbed my Hammond B3 and drove out from Indiana. I got there, went up the front steps, opened the door, and walked smack into Jaki. I recognized him and we kind of chatted for few minutes. I told him that he likely wouldn't remember, but that he had played at my high school in New Jersey with Maynard Ferguson's band. My dad and I went to the show. I told him that when Maynard introduced the band and got to him he stood up and said, "Ladies and gentleman I have played a lot of pianos across the globe, and that, by far, this is the worst piano I have ever played." (Laughing)

AAJ: (laughing) He had to remember that.

AP: He said that it was so bad that he had to transpose the entire band book up a half step. Yeah, he remembered alright. He started laughing. So that moment kind of set our footing right there. He took an interest in me. He asked me why I was there and where I went to school and who my jazz teacher was and stuff like that. Next thing I know he invites me into his office. There were two pianos in there and we started playing rhythm changes together. I'm sitting there just thinking holy crap I'm playing with Jaki Byard. Unbelievable. He stopped and said, "What are you doing in the fall?" I told him that I was going back to Indiana University. He suggested I transfer to NEC and study with him. I couldn't believe it. He said, "I will make it happen if you want to do it." So, I ran to the pay phone, at the time, and called my dad. He totally supported me in that decision if that is what I wanted to do. It seemed like an incredible opportunity to me. I was with Jaki for two years. He just took me under his wing. He was always there. Extremely warm. A close family guy. He got to know my mom and dad as well. He invited me to his gigs in Manhattan at Christmas time. One night he points at me and waves me up on stage. Right in the middle of a tune he just gets up and walks away and says, "You got it." I continued playing and then he reached under the piano and he pulled out his tenor sax case and grabbed his horn. We played duets for the rest of the set. A very unselfish loving man with a heart of gold.

AAJ: That's a wonderful tribute. He made quite an impact on you.

AP: He really did. Very special man. Genius composer and arranger, and one of the great pianists of all time.

AAJ: You just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

AJ: Yean, can you imagine if I hit one red light on the way I would have missed him. What he and George both taught me was about the spirit of jazz, the spirit of the music. Tony Williams taught me that too. Tony told me about an interview he did, and he was asked if Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Jimi Hendrix, all of whom he had played with, had anything in common. Tony's answer was, "Yes, they were all willing to fail."

AAJ: Wow, yeah. What a great answer.

AJ: Yeah, and that's what Jaki and George were trying to tell me about as well. You can make a strong left turn any time you want to as long as you have the conviction to back it up. You may not even have the musical tools to back it up, but if you have the conviction to switch gears, to take something out, to make a left turn, you become very believable and your musical choices become very valid.

AAJ: That's so well said. You are sharing some really terrific stories and thought-provoking stuff, Alan. It's much appreciated. You certainly had a very fulfilling time at NEC.

AP: Every week working with Thad Jones and his arrangements and so much more. I didn't actually graduate in 1974, as I would have, because I went out on the road with Tony. I went back to Boston years later, in the year 2000, and finished my degree work. When I went to graduation, Carl Atkins handed me my diploma. He was another one of my instructors back in the early seventies and was still teaching there. I thought that was pretty ironic. He was like, "What the hell are you doing here?" (laughing)

AAJ: (laughing) Yeah, like caught in a time warp.

AP: Well, then, here is the cherry on top. Just this year I heard from Ken Schaphorst, who is the current chair of the jazz program. This year is NEC's fiftieth anniversary of the jazz program. He asked me to come out to Boston and play a couple of tunes with the big band for one of the nights of festivities. Lo and behold, they brought back Carl Atkins to conduct one of Jaki's pieces and Carl's fantastic arrangement of "Monk's Mood." I got to play on both of those. We also played "All About Rosie," a great George Russell piece.

AAJ: And that was this year?

AP: Yeah, last month actually. What a beautiful full circle for me. Boston played a very important part in my life.

AAJ: Oh, that had to be very special to go back and play there after all these years. Over those years you have recorded more of your own records than I can even count. Records like Badlands (Fuzzy Music, 2002) and Soliloquy (Self Produced, 2018) There are so many that we could be here all week talking about them. So, instead maybe we can talk about compositional structure and your process. When I hear your music, I am always taken by your ability to create moods. For example, a song like "Hope" has a sweet yet melancholy feel to it. "Muddy" has more that New Orleans vibe. "Northern Lights" tells a beautiful story. How do you go about crafting those moods?

AP: Well, it's not something that is predetermined. A lot of times when I write, I learn that my best compositions come when I'm not trying to write. If I sit down determined to write a tune, it probably won't happen, or it won't be one of my better efforts. There are really two reasons to sit down at the piano. One is to practice and the other is to play. They are very different exercises. One is maybe focusing on a very small piece of music, blowing it up, and taking my time and exploring it. Trying to understand it on a deeper level. That's practicing. The other is for the sheer enjoyment of being able to play my piano. I'm fortunate to have an amazing piano to play. I waited my whole life to go to the Steinway factory in Hamburg, Germany. I have a concert grand that I was able to select a couple of years ago from the factory. Actually, you mentioned Soliloquy and Northern Lights (Self Produced, 2017). They were both played and recorded on that piano. When I just sit down to play, one thing I do is to just turn on a little phone recorder to capture whatever I am doing. That way when I get into the flow of playing and there is an idea that happens then it has already been recorded. You never know when an idea might trigger, so I always record when I am playing.

AAJ: That makes a lot of sense. You get a melody in your head, it only stays there for a short while, and then it's gone.

AP: Oh man, you have no idea how much damn music I have lost over the years by not having a recorder on. This way I can take it and explore it a bit and distinguish the mood that presents itself. It always starts small. Just a little sheave of an idea that just kind of emanates from that. Also, what you say is true. You get something in your head and say to yourself that you'll get back to that later. Not ever going to happen. Never be the same. It's gone.

AAJ: Then too, there is taking standards and putting your own stamp on them. That's got to be a whole different mindset, reimagining and improvising someone else's work.

AP: Yeah, it totally is. I always tell my students that if you are going to do an arrangement or a reharmonization of a song that already exists, that the most important thing is to pay respect to the song. That comes first. That's the highest order. The lowest order is your ego. Don't try to make it hip or try to put in a slick chord. It's just going to sound like crap, and it won't be relevant. I did a reharmonization of "Con Alma" that has been recorded by Peter Erskine and myself at the Interlochen Concert and possibly somewhere else. The chords are much different, much more modern than on Dizzy's (Dizzy Gillespie) original. However, the melody Is intact. All of my alterations came from what he had written. I didn't just make something up that I thought would be cool. I respected his work. One can listen to it and recognize the song. It's still the same song with the same melody. The changes are made respectfully within Dizzy's chord choices. Your ego has no place in the equation.

AAJ: There could be no better example of that than on 3 Nights in L.A. (Fuzzy Music, 2019) That three CD set with Erskine, George Garzone, and Darek Oleszkiewicz has a depth of conversation and dialogue that I would believe is a product of many years of playing together, yes?

AP: Yeah, I think that's right. Peter and I have known each other since we were eighteen. Our musical collaborations are very intuitive. I've known George for a long time and have played with him over the last fifteen years or so. He reminds me of my days in Boston in what he brings to the bandstand. It's how he approaches the music and what he brings to it. He can be totally melodic in one moment and then turn right around and blow the roof off the place. He brings a different energy to the band. I totally respond to all of that. I love playing in a quartet. I can't really do that sort of thing in a trio setting very well. The piano trio doesn't lend itself to that a lot of times. I don't think it necessarily prevents it, but it seems to be a bit more delicate. I love the more muscular quartet. In a quartet there are essentially two trios. There is the piano, bass, and drums trio and there's the saxophone, bass, and drums trio. And then there is the quartet. So, there are all these different bands kind of flying around. If George is soloing I won't even comp behind him much of the time. I just let Peter and Darek go for it.

AAJ: Yeah, as much as I have always loved piano trios, I get what you are saying. It's difficult for you to improvise off of the melody without the song losing its heartbeat if another player isn't there to cover that gap.

AP: That's it. That's exactly right, Jim. The quartet just allows for more variance. I love it. I love playing trio with Peter and Darek too, but I really love playing with the quartet.

AAJ: I was fortunate enough to be at Sam First for one of the quartet's performances about six weeks ago. Such a treat to be up close in an intimate setting, to not only hear, but to see and feel the interactions between you. It would seem you all enjoy playing at Sam First. You were quoted in my story on the venue as saying that, "This is not a restaurant masquerading as a jazz club." What is it that makes it a cool place to play?

AP: Well I think first and foremost the owner. He's a big jazz fan. It's also a very relaxed environment. It doesn't feel like a big corporation like some of the other places that are masquerading. It's more of a personal experience. Having said that, I'm not able to bring my Steinway and I really don't like the piano at Sam First. It's on my wish list that we can get a better piano in there. It's a negotiation every night I play it. The audience is never going to know that is going on. You do the best you can with it. Probably the best piano I ever played at a club here in L.A. was back at Rocco's up on Mulholland. He had a very nice Yamaha in there that stayed in tune and was well maintained.

AAJ: It's interesting to hear you say that, as I have talked to a couple of other pianists that have told me how much they love the piano at Sam First. So, then, I suppose it's a personal thing and what works for the individual?

AP: Yeah, I have heard that. I operate with two specific boundaries that are important to me in the instrument. If the piano doesn't stay in tune in one set that tells me it's got a problem. That is the case with pretty much every piano in town. It's expensive. You have to tune it and maintain it. If it's an older piano, the pins are going to start slipping and that's what makes it go out of tune. If you have someone that doesn't know what they're doing in setting the pins, then you are going to have a problem. I don't touch it. With my piano at home I have one person that works on that instrument and no one else. To the point of, if I can't get him, I wait. If I have a project, I put it on hold. I've learned over the years in working with many technicians that it's like a car. If you have a finely tuned machine like a Porsche and you have a bunch of different mechanics working on it, forget it. It's not going to be a happy camper. It's the same thing with the piano. Even though it's not a living, breathing entity, it still reacts to the human touch. The touch is super important. Both the technician's and the pianist's touch. If you have different guys coming in every night and playing the piano, you are going to get some guys that play too hard on it and guys that just don't get it, that end up punishing the piano. If I had my own club, I would put a really great piano in it. But I would be one of a very few people that would be allowed to play it. I'm kind of a prima donna about the whole piano thing but that's okay, I've put in enough time. (laughing)

AAJ: Well, it's more than okay. You respect the instrument and you understand what it takes for a piano to sound the way it should. There's nothing wrong with being the piano Nazi when you have the best interests of the music and the piano in mind.

AP: That's right. I agree with that.

AAJ: It's not uncommon for people to not allow others, or only a select few, to play their piano or other instruments. It's what you do for a living. You have every right to be protective of that. It's not a toy.

AP: Yes. Not everyone seems to understand that. But that is exactly right.

AAJ: In particular, you have played a lot with Erskine. I've had the pleasure of talking quite a bit with him. What is it about Peter's style of play and feel of his drum kit that sets him apart and above the pack? He makes it seem effortless, but in reality, he raises the bar significantly.

AP: Peter has an ability to grasp everything so quickly. Years ago, I would bring a few new tunes into a practice session with him and Dave Carpenter, and he would start playing them like he had known the songs for ten years. He got the whole message of my composition instantly. He would just scan the page and as soon as I started playing, he knew exactly the appropriate musical thing to do. We have a symbiosis in that way. The drums are his vehicle to express himself in whatever music it is. But he, as do I, always puts the composition first and foremost. If you do that it allows you to make musical choices that are appropriate for the song in front of you. It's just that simple. He learned that at a very early age. Much earlier than most. That sensitivity rubbed off on me a long time ago now. He just does that right thing every time. He has a great sense of color. Everything he plays is appropriate and always fits. He is also very aware of the space around him and is not afraid to not play if that's what makes sense.

Post a comment



View events near Los Angeles
Jazz Near Los Angeles
Events Guide | Venue Guide | Get App | More...

Shop Amazon



Read Charles Mingus: An Essential Top Ten Albums
Read Top Ten Kennedy Center Musical Moments

All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.