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Peter Erskine: Paging Dr. Um

R.J. DeLuke By

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"Sometimes I'm very happy to serve the music and meet it on its own terms and be more or less anonymous... If it's an improvised or jazz thing, what you see is what you get. You bring in improvisers; you have to let them improvise. If somebody tries to control that, they're just not going to be happy with the results. It's what we do. You have to let us do what we do. The important thing in an improvised setting is that a musician needs to be able to discover the music on their own. I worked for someone who thought they wanted jazz on an album. Then... ehhhh... It all came out so-so. I've worked with pop singers who decide they want to sing standards. It's not really their cup of tea. The whole thing's neither here or there. No more though. I'm not going to lose sleep not doing that kind of stuff."

One of his best experiences with a vocalist was not with a jazz singer, he says. It was Mary Chapin Carpenter on the album Songs From the Movie (2014, Zoe/Rounder Records), with arrangements by Mendoza. "Beautiful songs. Gorgeous lyrics. Her delivery. Her singing is fantastic. Vince Mendoza wrote the arrangements. I feel very at home doing folk stuff like that. She doesn't try to be a jazz singer. She's not. She's not interested in it."

As for the future, "Maybe 'Dr. Um on Broadway,'" he says with a laugh. But perhaps not kidding. "There are some wonderful tunes that were written for a number of Broadway shows, some of which I would love to play so people can hear them. Things I don't hear people playing."

"I have another album in the can that's pretty great," he says. "We do a version of the old pop tune 'Sukiyaki' that I think is very cool. That album might be the next one. I did it a few months after Dr. Um."

He's also busy developing professional play-along apps for young musicians. "We just came out with a big band app of Bob Mintzer's music. Most apps have music-minus drums, bass, lead trumpet, maybe sax. This has 17 music-minus track options. It's a very fun thing and I'm putting a lot of energy into that."

Rest assured Erskine's energy, whatever it's being put into, will yield outstanding results.
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