5

Ralph Peterson: Music Teaches You Life

Ralph Peterson: Music Teaches You Life
George Colligan By

Sign in to view read count
[Editor's Note: The following interview is reprinted from George Colligan's blog, Jazztruth]

I was recently in Athens, as part of my tour with Jack DeJohnette. Shortly after arriving, I'm sitting in my hotel room, and I get an unexpected call. "Colligan!" "Uh...yes?" And then I hear one of my obscure compositions, "Reaction," being sung by a gravelly yet pitch perfect voice. It could only be one person.... "Ralph? What are you doing here?"

Ralph Peterson is one of the greatest jazz drummers there is, period. Originally from Pleasantville, New Jersey, and also originally a trumpeter (I can relate to that), Peterson rose to prominence as one of the great young drummers with a band called Out of the Blue, more commonly known as OTB. (Indeed, I had a record, actually a cassette, of OTB called Live At Mt. Fuji (Capitol, 1990) that I listened to constantly in the early '90s.) Peterson also played as the second drummer with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers—that's a pretty high honor.

He has played with most of the greats in jazz, and has a long discography as a leader. Some of his Blue Note recordings were favorites of mine, albums like Triangular, Volition, and especially Art, a tribute to Blakey. Unfortunately, these are hard to find, since Blue Note destroyed a lot of their catalogue, for some reason. This was before iTunes. Peterson recently started his own label, which is called Onyx Music; the first release is called Outer Reaches and features a fabulous organ quartet called the Unity Project. I heard them last summer at the Iridium and was blown away. Organist Pat Bianchi was serious!

I was personally fortunate that Peterson played on two of my CDs as a leader; Activism(Steeplechase, 1996) and Ultimatum (Criss Cross, 2002), respectively. He also performed in a series of quartet concerts featuring a suite I composed entitled "Post 9-11," which was funded by Chamber Music America and the now defunct Arts International. There is a recording, but for now, it remains unreleased.

What I love about Peterson's playing is what I would call passionate precision: the swing and energy is like a hurricane, but the time is consistent and grounded, and the form of the tune is always being addressed. Peterson has huge ears and is a quick study in terms of learning new compositions. He's also still pretty killing on the trumpet, and not a bad pianist and bassist. Furthermore, Peterson's passion for the music has translated into becoming a renowned teacher. He's been full time at Berklee for the better part of a decade.

Peterson was in Athens performing with some Greek musicians. I told him I wanted to get an interview and we agreed to meet the next morning out by the pool. As expected, he was candid and articulate.

George Colligan: What do you think is the state of the jazz music business these days?

Ralph Peterson: The nature of the business is exploitative. So, once you've realized that, as an artist, you fall out of favor with those who have the power. The chosen ones are just getting younger and younger now to where all the guy has to do is get into college and he's trying to get calls for gigs. I think that the cats who are now teaching in the colleges should be the development network. It should be, for example, that I could call Mulgrew Miller and say, "Ok, Who is the killing pianist out here? " Or I'd call you and ask "Who is the killing pianist I should know about? " And then, musicians can determine who is the next great player. Unfortunately, now it's competitions and record labels that are determining who is the next great player.

Sometimes it's not even the professors. It's the administrators and the trustees and the Board of Directors deciding to put the weight and full force of support at a program behind a particular individual. You dig what I'm saying? When on the other hand, there are young students who are trying to go through the process and come out credentialed as well as experienced; like pianist Victor Gould. Yeah, Victor Gould is a cat that you should hear. He would leave you feeling encouraged about the future of your instrument.

And all of this is coming from me, a guy who was thought of as un- credentialed and inexperienced when I first hit the scene. Okay, so it ironic that I'm even saying it. Back in '85 and '86 when OTB happened, they were saying the same shit about me. But I finished school. [laughs] Under the loving threat of physical violence from my teacher, Michael Carvin, saying to me, "You can quit school and go to New York, but don't let me see you in the streets."

GC: Let's go back a little. Talk a little bit about Alan Dawson and the Rudiment Ritual. Why you think it's important?

Shop

More Articles

Read Dave Holland: Consummate Bassist Interviews Dave Holland: Consummate Bassist
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Walter Smith III: Jazz Explorer Interviews Walter Smith III: Jazz Explorer
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: April 19, 2017
Read Remembering Art Farmer Interviews Remembering Art Farmer
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 19, 2017
Read Nick Brignola: Between A Rock And The Jazz Place Interviews Nick Brignola: Between A Rock And The Jazz Place
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: April 16, 2017
Read Lew Tabackin: A Life in Jazz Interviews Lew Tabackin: A Life in Jazz
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: April 6, 2017
Read "Jamil Sheriff: Helping shape a brave new jazz world" Interviews Jamil Sheriff: Helping shape a brave new jazz world
by Rokas Kucinskas
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "Bria Skonberg: In Flight" Interviews Bria Skonberg: In Flight
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: April 4, 2017
Read "Tony Monaco: Taking Jazz Organ to the Summit" Interviews Tony Monaco: Taking Jazz Organ to the Summit
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: August 31, 2016
Read "Meet Kenny Garrett" Interviews Meet Kenny Garrett
by Craig Jolley
Published: October 9, 2016
Read "Dominic Miller: From Sting to ECM" Interviews Dominic Miller: From Sting to ECM
by Luca Muchetti
Published: March 28, 2017
Read "Lewis Porter on John Coltrane" Interviews Lewis Porter on John Coltrane
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: September 23, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!