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Peter Erskine: Up Front, In Time, and On Call, Part 1

Jim Worsley By

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The goal, in addition to being spontaneous and just playing, was to keep out of the way of the sound. —Peter Erskine
Part 1 | Part 2

Peter Erskine is affable, engaging, and humorous. He, of course, is also one of the finest drummers of his generation. He has left his mark on the jazz and fusion world for nearly fifty years now. An icon, whose name is mentioned with the greats of all time, Erskine continues to gift us as he forges ahead by crafting new music, sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring young musicians, and continuing to reinvent himself again and again with a penchant for exploring uncharted territories. All About Jazz had the good fortune recently to go into the studio with Erskine and touch on a multitude of subjects. He was once a seven-year old playing drums on national television and is now Dr. Um. In between was Weather Report, Steps Ahead, the big bands of Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson, a professorship at The Thornton School of Music at USC, a wonderful wife and family, author of several books, and a host of incredible musical relationships. We talked about it all, and then some.

All About Jazz: You have a large fan base derived from your many years as a successful jazz and fusion drummer. However, many may not know about your affiliation with The Thornton School of Music at USC. Perhaps you could take that one from the top.

Peter Erskine: I went to high school in Interlochen, Michigan, at a place called Interlochen Arts Academy. It's in the far north of Michigan. I grew up in New Jersey and was used to cold weather, but nothing like Michigan had to offer. Interlochen was a boarding school. So, I found myself away from home, plucked from my home environment when I was fourteen. I spent three years up there and was snowbound much of the time. Consequently, there wasn't much else to do other than to study, practice, and spend time with your girlfriend.

AAJ: If one was so fortunate.

PE: Indeed. It was an incredibly nurturing place, not only because of the teachers there and the way it was setup, but because the teachers and fellow students really constituted my family. I had my weekly phone calls with my mom and dad, of course. I had a very nurturing environment growing up, particularly in terms of education. My father had always encouraged me to ask a lot of questions. He believed in the adage that there are no dumb questions. He was very supportive. I think this all planted an early seed for my becoming a teacher down the road. I eventually went on the road with Stan Kenton's band when I was eighteen. Much of that was centered around what they called clinics. Afternoon educational presentations at whatever school we were at prior to a performance in the evening. A rhythm section specific class or something of that nature with area students. This began to make me very comfortable in terms of speaking to a group of students. I found that I was able to present in a way that was inviting and made them want to learn more. Some of that was just seeing the success or failure of how some of the other musicians in the band handled questions. I saw that if students weren't asking questions it was generally just a function of being shy, their brain just being jumbled, or not wanting to be the first one to raise their hand or something of this nature. It has much to do with establishing a comfort level whether it's an audience of one, or an audience of many.

In the drum industry, more than any other instrumental area, teaching is a big part of our extracurricular activities. The idea of teaching full time wasn't something I was looking to do. USC reached out back in 2000 regarding some part-time instruction, and I figured, why not? Pianist Shelly Berg was the chair of jazz studies at that time. Had it been UCLA I probably would have had the same response. After a short time, I went back out on the road with vocalist/pianist Diana Krall for a year. When I got back, I met with the dean, Rob Cutietta, and the assistant dean, Chris Sampson. They invited me to make more of a commitment and make it more of a full-time presence. Despite the fact that I had been associated with many bands, it was all essentially freelance work. A great bassist by the name of Charles Fambrough once said, "The only job security in this business is playing your ass off." Give you an example. One day pianist Joe Zawinul asked me to show him my passport, after I had already joined Weather Report. He looks at it and says, "Man, it's a good thing I didn't see this before I heard you play, or I never would have hired you." Naturally I asked why. His response was, "Because you look like one of those jive jazz education mother fuckers." (This had us both laughing out loud together.)

AAJ: What is your current position and job title?

PE: I am a full professor and the title is Professor of Practice. I enjoy the university, the faculty, and the students. Los Angeles is still a very fertile music scene. Both creatively, and with people being able to work. Sometimes it might not be the most creative film or TV score, or rank up there with the most aesthetically pleasing things you have done in your life, but it's still good.

AAJ: It's still work.

PE: It's still work. Years ago, I remember Manfred Eicher at ECM telling me that he didn't like me doing so many things. You know, here I am doing a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial or making a record with this singer or that person. But, you know, every experience informs the next, and secondly, here I am with a wife and two kids and private schools, etc. On top of that, it's my craft. I love the craft of playing, whether it's the Crazy Rich Asians, or La La Land, or The Secret Life of Pets, or whatever.

AAJ: Why was he opposed to you doing these things?

PE: He wanted me to have my head in the musical clouds where he spent most of his time. It may have been great if I had followed his advice, who knows? But I don't live in Europe, I live in LA. Maybe in Europe it would be a more practical thing to do, but not here. I like going in and doing the big band thing or playing a surf beat for Honey Nut Cheerios or a variety of things. I like that variety and none of them are easy things to do.

AAJ: What is the most gratifying part of teaching?

PE: That moment when you see the lightbulb go off. The moment when they gain an understanding. That makes the day for me. If I am lucky that might happen two or three times during a teaching day. The school serves as a magnet for a cross section of outstanding musicians. USC has an incredible faculty. The chair of the department is saxophonist Bob Mintzer. We also have pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Edwin Livingston, bassist Darek Oles, drummer Will Kennedy, pianist Patrice Rushen, and bassist Alphonso Johnson. The guitar department is stellar. The classical department is amazing. The principal players are from the LA Philharmonic. On the strength of everyone's relationship in the business we have been able to get incredible guests as well. Guitarist Paul Jackson Jr has been doing some teaching. It is just great to see all that talent on campus.

AAJ: What is the single most important thing for young musicians to focus on?

PE: To listen. I don't mean to just listen to the music while there on the bandstand playing. To listen and learn the language so that you can speak the vocabulary. To learn the history of it all. I was a very avid listener when I was young. But I was wanting, there were huge gaps. I'm still not over the embarrassment and shame of doing a Downbeat blindfold test and not knowing that it was drummer Chick Webb that they were playing for me. Sometime after that I ran into trumpeter Jon Faddis and he just looked at me and just said, "Chick Webb." So, I started listening. Better late than never. The riches in this music are many. So many great things that came out of the neo-classical movement, if you want to call it that. Wynton Marsalis and all the incredible things he has done. The Lincoln Center, of course. Moreover, getting Duke Ellington into the school systems. Thanks originally to the pioneering efforts of Stan Kenton we have jazz education in schools. The big band stuff was always Woody Herman, Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, and a lot of Count Basie, but very little Ellington.

AAJ: A valuable part of your education as a young musician was at the Stan Kenton jazz camps. I have spoken to several musicians, most recently bassist Tom Kennedy, who speak so very highly of the Kenton camps. What was it about those camps, or perhaps Kenton himself, that set it apart?

PE: At USC we have the jazz studies program. You didn't have jazz bands back in the late 50's and early 60's. You had stage bands, lab bands, the one o'clock band, the two o'clock band, because jazz was a dirty word.

AAJ: Ah, it was hidden under a different heading.

PE: Yes. Dance bands, lots of different names. Kenton, along with some key educators such as Clem DeRosa, Matt Benton, Leon Breeden, and Gene Morris dedicated themselves to trying to build what only a few schools had done. They had these summer jazz camps. My teacher heard about these when I was only six years old. He applied for me. We didn't realize the minimum age for admission was fourteen. We get to the camp and of course they tell us that I'm too young. Now my family had just driven nearly non-stop for two and a half days to get there. This was in the days before the interstate, so it was a pretty hearty drive. Kenton was smart to recognize an opportunity and they did an about-face after a short meeting. They told us that Stan wanted to hear me play that evening. They set up a private audition and Stan had a photographer there from the local newspaper. A picture of Stan and I was then used to promote the camp. Then as long as my parents were willing to stay with me in the dorm I was accepted to the camp. At this first camp there was Keith Jarrett, David Sanborn, Lou Marini Jr., and Don Grolnick. Randy Brecker was at the camp the next year, Gary Burton had been at the camp the year before. This was where a lot of us got our jazz fix. Our education and inspiration for the year. I went to a few of those camps and stayed in touch with Stan on and off. He was following what I was doing a bit here and there and word got back to him after I was playing with David Baker's Indiana University jazz band when I was seventeen. All of sudden, he needed a drummer. The drummer who was playing in his band was a fine drummer by the name of Jerry McKenzie. Well, Jerry had delivered an ultimatum to Stan that either the bassist goes, or he does.

AAJ: Guessing the bassist stayed.

PE: The bassist stayed. The biggest mistake you can make in a big band is trying to tell the leader how to run his band. Stan loved Jerry and he never would have gotten rid of him. But he had no choice. So, Jerry is out, and Stan calls my dad. "Is Peter ready?" he asks. Now at the time I was working at the Club Harlem on a lot of R&B stuff.

AAJ: Atlantic City?

PE: Atlantic City. I was just about to start a six-week summer gig playing for the Ice Capades. Instead, we drive up to my audition with Kenton's big band at the Lincoln Center. This particular show in New York had the likes of Woody Herman and Zoot Sims and others sitting in. I sit in while they rehearse singer June Christy's portion of the performance. Now, the band didn't know I was auditioning. They just thought that Christy had some long-haired hippie drummer she had brought along. I guess I did okay, and I am invited to play the concert that night. Then I'm told to pack my bags and meet the band less than a week later. I am eighteen years old and I become the drummer for the Stan Kenton big band. As much as I would like to think it was my talent that got me the gig, it was in equal measure, again, Stan recognizing a marketing opportunity. Here I was, a former student of his summer camp. Also, the drummer that I was replacing was a Detroit policeman. Not exactly the right fit.

AAJ: You represented this whole different image.

PE: Yes, an entirely different image that younger people could relate to. It became more relevant. What I lacked in knowledge I made up for in youthful energy. Mostly, it was people my parents age coming to the shows, but sometimes with their eighteen-year old daughter in tow. Hey, I'm eighteen so that works. It was good fun for a time.

AAJ: Later you played with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band. Then you replaced Alex Acuña as the drummer for Weather Report. How did playing in big bands lead to being hired to play in a fusion band?

PE: Jaco Pastorius sold me pretty aggressively to Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. Jaco had heard me play only the one time, but he heard something he liked. There was something in my beat that he felt comfortable with. We had listened to a lot of the same music, so we just sort of had the same rhythmic cadence. They were intrigued by the fact that I had played with Kenton. But the Kenton they heard in their heads was 1950's Kenton. I think that if they had heard what we were doing at the time they never would have hired me. They just thought the idea of it was pretty cool, and then Jaco says the kid can rock. Plus, I had this ensemble experience. So, they thought it might be worth a shot. My audition was basically a phone call. I remember that Joe called, and I had been taking a nap. I was half awake, so we had a completely inconclusive conversation. He asked someone in his management office to call me. The test was, the question was, to ask me if I could play the beat to "Nubian Sundance." That is a song on the album Mysterious Traveler (Columbia,1974). Are you familiar with it?

AAJ: Indeed I am.

PE: As it turned out, the bassist in Maynard's band and I used to play it a lot.

AAJ: Oh, you mean that you guys messed around with it.

PE: We messed around with it, right. I am twenty-three and I tell them to tell Joe that "I can play the shit out of it." Joe loves this answer.

AAJ: He likes the cockiness.

PE: Yes, that's exactly right.

AAJ: You had some prolific years and records with Weather Report. What inspired you to write a Weather Report based autobiography? And what does the title, No Beethoven, refer to?

PE: I was always taking photos and would often write down any interesting tidbits of conversation or jokes or something that Joe or Wayne or Jaco would say that were outlandish or seemed interesting. I sort of kept a journal. So, I had this box of stuff and started going through and cataloging all these great memories. Then Jaco was murdered, and Joe passed away, and I thought the story deserved telling. I was there and now armed with a photographic history. The original concept of the book was to be an electronic book for Ipad. That version has over one thousand photos and is a must see for Weather Report fans. It's stunning. An embarrassment of riches. The title refers to something Joe once said when he was bragging about his compositional prowess. He was talking about something he had just written and said, "I ain't afraid of no Beethoven." (Laughter ensues.)

AAJ: I love that. That's a great story. I opted to listen to the audiobook version and "read" it in that fashion. It made it very personal as if you were speaking directly to me, as you are now. It was also very cool to have time period tunes on there. What was the experience of doing that like?

PE: Thank you for the compliment. It was a lot of work. There is a process of pacing, slowing down or speeding up. Fortunately, I had some good help from the producer and some good direction on that. To relate one story from the book that I think sets the tone, is Joe catching me with my headphones on listening in reverie to a kind of commercial jazz. I didn't reveal the name of the artist in the book as what Joe said is kind of insulting and I'm not looking to make a cheap joke out of it. Anyways, it was funny though. We are on the plane and I haven't even played my first gig with Weather Report yet. I see Joe coming down the aisle and I know what is going to happen. He is going to want to hear what I am listening to, and my Miles Davis and John Coltrane tapes are in the overhead compartment. No chance to switch it, it's just out of reach. Sure enough, he wants the headphones and to know what I'm listening to. He listens for awhile, and loudly voices his disapproval. He takes the headphones wide over my head and just before plopping them down on my ears, he says, "sad motherfucker!" (We are both laughing out loud now.)

AAJ: While on tour with Weather Report in Tokyo, you have the good fortunate to meet a lovely interpreter. You go on to get married and raise a family together. What can you tell us about your partner in life and your family?

PE: My wife and I have two wonderful kids. Our son is a video editor and our daughter is actress Maya Erskine. Her TV show just dropped today on Hulu. The LA Times has called it the best new show on TV. It's called Pen15. It refers to an old gag about tricking a kid into writing Pen15 on his forehead under the premise of joining a club. As in I am Pen14, you can be Pen15, etc. The poor kid is now walking around with what looks like "Penis" on his forehead. The trick of the show is that Maya and her comedy partner, Anna Konkle, are both thirty-one years old, but they are portraying thirteen-year olds. All the other actresses actually are thirteen-year old kids. As soon as we are done here, Mutsy (his wife) and I are going to turn off all the phones and binge watch all ten episodes. Mutsy is in it too. She plays the mother. The father is played by Richard Karn, who used to be in Home Improvement. He is terrific in the show. I had to show him how to hold drum sticks because he is a drummer in the show. They didn't want his character to be too successful, so I said, "that's easy, make him a drummer in a Steely Dan cover band." (more laughs)

AAJ: That's terrific. My wife and I will have to check that out.

PE: I think you will enjoy it. We have now lived in this house (we were in Erskine's studio located right behind his house) for thirty-two years. Mutsy is not a musician, but she understands the things about music that I am still in need of learning.

AAJ: Such as? That's interesting that you would say that.

PE: How I am breathing when I play. She knows when I am comfortable or not comfortable. The way a certain situation or instrument will make me play. I switched drum companies almost entirely on her hearing me play a drum set one night and liking the way the drums were making me play.

AAJ: This was the switch to Tama from DW?

PE: Yes. It generally comes down to a relationship with an individual at the drum company. Sometimes those go south for whatever reason. But what is priceless, like the old Mastercard ad, is that feeling I get when I think I have found the instrument for me. I have only been married once. I made a good call on that. But it took me four times with the drums. I started out playing Slingerland. Great drums. Then I started playing Yamaha. They were wonderful drums. Played those for twenty-five years. Then DW, and that was a fun and exciting time to be with that company. But then I started "cheating," if you will. Looking for something else. I bought a couple of drum sets and was trying to find something to satisfy an itch. Not sure what it was.

AAJ: Until you find it.

PE: Yeah, every drum is different. It's not just the way the drum shell is made or the design features. There's a look and feel to the hardware. There's a rapport you get with an instrument because you are handling it almost every day. Taking it apart and putting it together. It can be annoying. So, I figure I am not going to be around that much longer, I don't want to spend my time being annoyed with this shit. Five years with Tama, and I am still just as happy with the way it sounds and the way it plays. So, as I told people at the most recent trade show (NAMM), it feels good to have this shit all settled. I don't have to spend time looking for drumsticks, drumheads, cymbals, etc. Although, I am still looking for the perfect cowbell (he said with a laugh).

AAJ: Well, it's always good to have something to aspire to. You also mentioned in your book that Max Roach's style of play resonated with you much more than that of Buddy Rich. What was it that made that the case?

PE: Buddy Rich was indisputably the Paganini of drums. The greatest in many ways. His kinetic energy. His ability to inspire incredible playing by people on the bandstand and to inspire reaction in the audience. Buddy was great. He was a snare drum centric player. Much of that coming out of the Gene Krupa and Chick Webb kind of thing. As great as that was, it was never something that I felt that I could do. It wasn't something that I was even drawn into learn how to do. I liked listening to it, I just never saw myself doing it. Conversely, Max was a very melodic player. Those contrasting styles are most evident on the record they did together, Rich versus Roach (Mercury, 1959) His approach made total sense to me. Art Blakey's drumming made total sense to me. Elvin Jones's drumming, as mysterious as it still is, made total sense to me. The divine appeal of what he did still appeals to me more than just about anything.

AAJ: What is it about Elvin's playing that reaches you so, and affects your own style and approach?

PE: There are a number of things about Elvin's drumming that appeal to me. The shapes and the way he played phrases. It was just more of a ballet to the shape and the notes. The drummer who shares the most with him in that regard was Bernard Purdie. There was something about the arc and the way they moved around the kit. For me it just totally makes sense the way these guys play. It just has to do with this dynamic cadence. Meanwhile, Elvin was on the high wire, a 65mph hurricane. Yet always coming through triumphantly. Elvin was well-known for breaking a Gretsch bass drum pedal or the strap, just one after another. Just stepping through those things. But when you watch him play, he can be very physical, yet there is still something very controlled and relaxed about the way he played. In trying to imitate him, I made the mistake of forcing it. I felt like I had to reach a level of physicality and only by revving it up to this level could I come close to it. The more I revved it up, the further away I got. I realized that there was something fundamentally really relaxed about the way he played. I tell my students that the only way you are going to get this Elvin thing is if you don't try so hard. That you are trying way too hard to do it. I played in tribute to Elvin. The Zildjian sponsored American Achievement Awards(1998) honored four drummers this particular evening. Those being Elvin, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, and Louie Bellson.

The honoring drummers who were asked to perform were Steve Gadd, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Marvin "Smitty" Smith. I lobbied very hard to get the Elvin thing. I was shameless. Please, please, please, I'll never ask you for another favor. I loved Louis, but I wouldn't have had the first idea of what to play. So, I end up getting it. I play with George Garzone and a wonderful bassist out of Boston named John Lockwood. My parents drive out from New Jersey. My sister is now, for a time, dating a guy named Chuck she used to go out with way back in high school. Now, understand that Chuck was the guy that went to Berklee from our small hometown. So, I am going to play in front of Elvin, Gadd, Haynes, and everybody that night, but I am the most nervous and self-conscious because Chuck is in the audience. Chuck who knew me as a kid. Somehow, I get fucked up by this. At the rehearsal my drumming sounded like shit. So, I took a moment and found this dark place backstage and said what just happened? I had tried way too hard. I hit the drums too hard. I counted it off too fast. All because I am so nervous about Chuck. But now I know what I need to do.

AAJ: So, in an odd way, Chuck's presence ended up helping you.

PE: Yes, exactly. It went great. I was now very thankful for Chuck's presence. It was like boom, and immediately we were in fifth gear. At the end Elvin and Roy Haynes stood up and hugged each other and blew me a kiss. I blew them a kiss back. Great fun.

AAJ: It doesn't get any better than that.

PE: Not for me it doesn't!

AAJ: That's a goosebumps story. What a special moment.

PE: Have you ever seen Elvin in the movie Zachariah (1971)?

AAJ: No, I don't believe so.

PE: He plays a gunslinger. The James Gang, you know, with Joe Walsh, are playing, and Elvin shoots this guy dead. Then he motions for the drummer to get off the drums and plays a drum solo. Hold on a minute.... (we then proceed to watch a five-minute scene he referred to while laughing our asses off).

AAJ: Well, I have to check out the rest of that. We talked a little bit about Jaco. I wanted to get your thoughts and memories about him?

PE: Alex Acuna provided me with an interesting insight. Jaco's sixteenth note bass playing seemed to come out of nowhere. James Jamerson and a couple of others, but Jaco's playing was formed by conga drum patterns. So, he had a very distinctly Caribbean kind of thing. Jaco approximated that into his bass line. His bass playing and funk was delightfully off axis from the way other bass players played. He was influenced by Chuck Rainey, Jamerson, Jerry Jemmott and others, but he had his own thing. The other thing that really set him apart was his fretless playing. His intonation was better than anyone else. In fact, I almost can't stand to listen to any other fretless players. He was just so good and anyone else plays it out of tune. Jaco and I had a lot of fun. We were half the age of Joe & Wayne. We were the kids in the band.

AAJ: Zawinul was known as a tough task master. What was your relationship with him like?

PE: Joe, Jaco, and I were often like the three musketeers. We liked going out and doing things together when the band was on the road. Joe and Jaco had a very competitive aspect to their relationship. I didn't. That just wasn't my thing. Joe could be rough on you. But I stuck around. I didn't tell him to jump in a lake. I didn't quit the band, although I was tempted to a couple of times. Sometimes it could be a drag. But I always kept in mind that these guys know a lot more about this stuff than I do. I still had a lot to learn so it made sense to stick around. It's really what you need to do in order to make an impression and to be able to move on to the next level. I wasn't completely sure what my ambitions were. But I knew I wanted to keep playing with other musicians and to keep getting better. Joe once told me that if I really wanted to make it as the jazz musician I want to become then sooner or later I had to go to New York. And I did. Leaving Weather Report felt good. It was the right time. I went on tour with Steps Ahead. Prior to that, with Joe's blessings, I worked with the great jazz pianist George Cables. That was a tremendous experience and really helped me grow.

AAJ: What are your memories of that time in your life, and playing with Michael Brecker?

PE: Steps was cool. If I wrote a tune, we would play it. Whereas with Weather Report, I wasn't perceived as good enough. It was great. Brecker, Mike Mainieri, later John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and several others. Steps in all considerations was a lot of fun. Then I moved to LA. It took me a while to break in here. Most people in LA thought I still lived in New York. I had left New York so I ceased to exist there.

AAJ: So, a state of limbo for just a short time.

PE: A bit of limbo but then started working a lot, particularly in Europe. The ECM affiliation started. My own trio records and the stuff with Jan Garbarek (Norwegian saxophonist) and Miroslav Vitous (Czech bassist). I also worked with Kenny Wheeler (Canadian trumpeter). In the midst of all that, I did the Steely Dan tour. Manfred and Miroslav really hated that. They thought I was selling out. But I really enjoyed it. The kids loved it, and it was a great learning experience. I have been very fortunate. My discography, including film, is up to over seven hundred now.

AAJ: That's impressive. And new music on the horizon.

PE: Yes, we have done three Dr. Um albums now. My return to fusion. This is with pianist John Beasley, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, and bassist Benjamin Shepherd.

AAJ: I had the pleasure of seeing your quartet recently at the Baked Potato in Hollywood. There seems to be an innate sense of chemistry at play there. I can now say that it is medically proven that Dr. Um is good for the ears. What is the balance between just letting it flow, and at the same time wanting to be creative and push the envelope?

PE: Hey, I like that! The main thing is that we aren't fighting each other. We aren't fighting the music. If someone takes it in a particular direction, we can either go there or not, but we aren't going to fight it. When I was younger that might have been different. We trust each other and that is what makes any good band work. Especially in a small group that is improvisational. That you trust the choices that the other guy makes. We are just listening to where the conversation goes.

AAJ: With a little luck that directional compass varies from night to night.

PE: Well, we hope. Then too, a lot of tunes you don't need to reinvent the wheel every time you play it either. There is a beauty to trusting the material. Bob Sheppard, when we first started playing out, was just kind of noodling a lot. I would ask him what he was doing, and he would tell me that he wasn't sure what he should be playing. I would tell him to just stop playing and to sit down. You don't need a horn player playing all the time to sell what we are doing. It's a voice but nobody should be playing all the time. Particularly the horns. Staying away from the bass solo, now it's the drum solo, now it's the sax solo thing. Next tune same thing. That gets pretty boring. It's not a democracy. Everyone doesn't need to solo.

AAJ: It can get pretty predictable.

PE: It does. Really, instead, it's best going back to the old Weather Report thing, "We never solo, we always solo." If you think about it, what shares that trait? Dixieland. Good New Orleans jazz. It's just a group thing and the really good bands are doing that. It goes back to listening. I tell my students that we can take this four-year course of study down to one sentence if you want. Naturally, they want to know what that is. It is simply playing what you want to hear. Don't play what you think he wants to hear, or that some other person wants to hear. That's when you get into trouble. What do you want it to sound like? Then do it. There's a great story involving Zawinul and the guitarist in one of his bands. They finished recording a tune in the studio and Joe wanted to take a listen. The guy says, "Well, if you are going to use that take then I want to redo my solo." Joe, of course, wants to know why. The guy says, "Well, I don't like what I played." Joe replies, in what I think is a brilliant way, and says, "Well if you don't like what you played, why did you play it?" Which is the thing. Take responsibility for what you play. It's really simple.

AAJ: How did the Dr. Um project get started?

PE: Well, I wanted to get back to doing some fusion and I met with Beasley to talk about some ideas and see if we could figure out an interesting project. John and I have worked together for years. I ended up deciding to do my own funk album called The Lost Pages. The concept was to give a second listen to some tunes that I thought deserved to be heard. I was interested in doing this tune of Wayne's, that as far as I knew had never been recorded. I had saved it all these years and pulled it out of the filing cabinet for the purpose of this meeting. Then I couldn't find it. I tore the house apart looking for it, I never did find it. I still haven't found it. It was kind of the inspiration for the album, but I could never find the tune. I pulled out an old Zawinul tune, John had a couple of tunes, I had a couple, and we went from there. Then we did Second Opinion, which is all original music, with the exception of one Henry Mancini song. And most recently the double album, On Call. The latter has a studio effort and a live recording. We are having fun and are headed out to Europe for a summer tour. There are only a couple of bass players I would trust in this role. Benjamin is amazing. He can't travel to Europe this coming summer, and he couldn't last summer, as he and his wife were expecting a child. So, my nephew, Damian Erskine, is the first call sub for Benjamin and he will be joining us.

AAJ: Okay, Damian, I believe, played on a couple of your trio albums.

PE: Yes, the new trio.

AAJ: The original trio with pianist John Taylor and bassist Palle Danielsson did some remarkable work on those four trio records. There had to be a truly fascinating creative process going on.

PE: There was some really gorgeous sound on those. We had a piano in the room that was so beautifully tuned and just sounded great. The goal there, in addition to being spontaneous and just playing, was to keep out of the way of the sound.

AAJ: To keep out of the way of the sound. That's interesting. What do you mean by that?

PE: To not play so much that you start cluttering up. Yet to still play. That was kind of the tightrope challenge.

AAJ: To try and have some space.

PE: Yes. John Taylor was a very rhythmic player and he could carry a lot of the weight. Be the motor if you will. It's always weird for a drummer to have his or her name as top billing when it is a piano trio. Ultimately, I think that led to some level of discomfort for John. At the time my name had a little more marquee value and it was easier to book gigs. It did give me the luxury of being the musical director. I remember telling them it was great but giving them some notes. I was trying to convey that we didn't need to "hit it out of the park" on every tune. Of course, what does that American terminology mean to a Swedish bassist and a British pianist. I wanted it to be as much about non-events as events. A solo was about passing by a lake and there was some mist and fog on top of the lake. You see it, you drive by, and then it's gone. I don't need a fucking dragon coming out of the lake.

AAJ: It's not about a peak, it's just a pleasant moment.

PE: Yeah, I just wanted it to be a part of the horizon or an arc of the bigger story we are telling. In fact, Michael Brecker and I used to disagree about that concept. He would always want to be in fifth gear. He would say to me, "My solo is just not getting up to the fifth gear." I would say. "Yeah, that's because I'm not taking it there." Sometimes fifth gear can just get kind of loud and crowded. I went back east a few years ago to play a tribute to John Abercrombie. The first couple of drummers were totally invested in fifth gear early on. I didn't like it. It just kind of offended my sensibilities. It's like the crowded restaurant. I like sitting at a quiet table.

AAJ: Somewhat reverts back to that listening thing.

PE: Oh, that reminds me of a great story. Years ago, I am playing a show with guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Larry Goldings. There were some thoughtless patrons who may or may not have realized why they were there. They were talking loudly. Jim would start playing an intro and there was that moment of tension as to what was going to happen. We watched Jim as kind of our cue in dealing with these people that were being very disrespectful. He smiled and turned down. He played. They kept talking. He smiled. He turned down more. They finally got it. They realized. No expression of anger or rancor from Jim. He didn't try to out shout them. He just smiled.

AAJ: An impressive way to handle it. That's why I really like listening rooms. Do you find the talking thing at concerts to be a real issue sometimes?

PE: Yeah, and this (as he loudly crinkles a piece of paper), the program. Read the fucking thing before the show and put it under your seat. What are you looking at? The name of the second movement? It's the second fuckin' movement. Listen. Watch. Be respectful.

AAJ: You once said that "there's a lot of power in a whisper." Could you expand on that?

PE: With a whisper you generally are leaning in to hear it. You definitely get people's attention. I was speaking to Clint Eastwood about it. I saw him at a jazz gig recently. A very pleasant guy. I had been talking to my students about it in the respect that when there is a big action or moment about to occur, he doesn't shout leading up to it. It gets kind of soft as a prelude to any action. I asked him about this, and he smiled, shook his head, and said, "I hold a lot in, and I let it out a little at a time." I think that kind of says it.

AAJ: Going back just a couple of years now to when you were a seven-year old. What memories do you have of being on stage, on TV, on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour (a highly rated prime time network program that launched the careers of Gladys Knight, Pat Boone, and Jose Feliciano, among others) at such a tender age?

PE: I remember that I was sick. I think it was probably just nerves. Maybe some kind of fever. There was no place for me to lay down and rest, except for in Ted Mack's dressing room. They allowed me to sleep on his cot. I remember how kind they were. The band was very far away when we played. I really had trouble with that. I had never seen myself on a television monitor before because I had skipped the rehearsal, as I wasn't feeling well. But mostly I remember just how very nice everyone was.

AAJ: We have talked about the Dr. Um summer tour. What else is on tap for 2019 and beyond?

PE: I wanted to stay home more, but I will be touring in May with pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Scott Colley, and Danish saxophonist Benjamin Koppel. After the Dr. Um tour, another tour with bassist Eddie Gomez and Italian pianist Dado Moroni. Then bookending it all with another tour with Werner that also includes saxophonist Dave Liebman.

AAJ: How can you stay home when you can play with Gomez and Liebman and cats like that?

PE: I know, I know. Also, there is a new book. It's called The Musician's Lifeline. This is a cool project. I co-wrote a book, with editor and writer Dave Black, a couple of years ago called The Drummer's Lifeline. It has all kinds of tips. Stuff like how to pick your brushes up off a snare drum in the middle of a tune without making noise. (He then proceeds to demonstrate to me just how to do that.) Lots of tips like that. In this follow up, we invited people to answer a series of questions. We sent out seven questions to over two hundred musicians. We received one hundred forty-five responses. A pretty good response rate.

AAJ: I would say so.

PE: Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Christian McBride, Gary Burton, Janis Siegel from The Manhattan Transfer, Terri Lyne Carrington, film composers, and this whole incredible list. The seven questions were, 1) What is the best advice you have ever received? 2) What is the best advice you have ever given? 3) Do you have any advice about sight-reading? 4) Is there anything differently you would have done in your education? 5) Any travel advice? 6) Any business advice? 7) Any people skills advice? Also, the optional, do you have any advice for a drummer? And, do you have any audition advice? We ended up with responses that represent multiple lifetimes of musical experience. All these different points of view from men, women, straight, gay, and from all over the world.

AAJ: it would seem to give you/the book a lot of weight as well.

PE: The pedigree of all the answers, yes. One piece of microphone etiquette that I hope sticks is for people to stop saying "give it up." "Give it up for Jimmy, give it up for this fucking guy." If this book serves no purpose other than to get people to stop saying that I will have done the world a favor.

AAJ: Yeah, maybe if they would just give it up. Whatever happened to "Please welcome to the stage....?" (rhetorical question) So, you have much going on, especially when you factor in the full-time responsibilities at USC.

PE: Yes, and as you can see by the video equipment here in the studio, I also provide instruction for young drummers on artistworks.com. We just finished shooting video that will be broken down into over two hundred lessons. Two other new records I would like to tell you about. I had the opportunity to co-produce and play on a record with a brilliant young Hungarian composer and pianist named Daniel Szabo. It's a brand-new release called Visionary(Fuzzy Music, 2019) and a really fantastic record. It's music for jazz trio, string quartet, and a woodwinds sextet. Then there is a box set with three records with saxophonist George Garzone. These were all recorded live at a very cool new club in LA called Sam First. We hope to have that one out by the end of summer. The working title is Three Nights in LA.

AAJ: Much to look forward to. Garzone sure rides a nice tenor.

PE: Right before these live shows, I had George at USC to head up a master class. The students were absolutely slack jawed with mouths wide open. They had never heard a tenor sax live making the note choices like Coltrane used to do. They were just amazed and dazzled.

AAJ: Clearly, you and your students both get so much out of the time you spend together. I certainly have enjoyed and am very appreciative of our conversation and time spent today.

PE: My pleasure. I enjoyed it. We covered a lot of ground this afternoon. Don't forget to watch Zachariah. (We laughed, much as we had throughout.)
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