Peter Erskine and the Wavedrum: Old School / New Tools.
Peter Erskine has been playing drums since the age of four. A graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy, Peter went on to study percussion at Indiana University. After cutting his jazz teeth playing with the likes of Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson, Peter Erskine ended up behind the drums in the hugely influential band Weather Report, where he and bassist Jaco Pastorious formed an indomitable rhythm section. His unique style has helped to define modern jazz drumming, and has kept Peter one of the most in-demand jazz drummers. His musical dexterity has also crossed over into the rock/pop world, where Peter has worked with luminaries such as Steely Dan, Queen Latifah, and British songstress Kate Bush. Peter has authored a series of books – and a DVD – sharing his drumming insights and technique. Nowadays, Peter Erskine splits his time between sessions, playing live and serving as a professor of Jazz studies at the prestigious USC Thornton School of music. KORG was lucky to catch Peter in between gigs to catch up and learn a bit more about his background.
KORG: It seems when we sit down and talk with drummers, we find many have been playing all their lives. Did that drumming bug bite you early as well?
Peter Erskine: I always knew that I would be a drummer. I started playing at the age of 4 and began taking lessons when I was 5, and so I have been drumming for 50 years. Drumming has been my primary motivation for all of that time.
KORG: You did more than decide, though, right? You attended two of the most esteemed musical schools in America.
PE: Of course, going to music school — at both the Interlochen Arts Academy and Indiana University —only helped to reinforce this conviction and help make my musical dreams a reality; school, practice, listening to lots of music and musicians’ advice. "Keep your ears open and pay attention to life" ... that’s MY advice. And have fun.
KORG: As a drummer who would you cite as your influences?
PE: Drumming-wise, the names that always come to mind first are those of Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, Bernard Purdie, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Don Lamond, Buddy Rich ... wait: this list is going to become real long real quick.
KORG: Well, already that was become a very diverse group …
PE: One of the best pieces of advice I received as a young drummer was from arranger/composer Johnny Richards who told me: “Peter, listen to every kind of music.” And so my influences range from the Beatles to Bártok, Varese to Elvin, Blakey to Beethoven and Mel to Mahler. Not to mention the fertile musical soil from Africa, South and Central America, India, Asia, the Balkans.
KORG: So you have influences spanning the globe …
PE: The band I spent the most time with, Weather Report, was playing "world music" before the term existed. All of that said, we’re the sum of our listening and experiential parts. The more you live, the more you hear, and the more you know and the more you can PLAY.
KORG: Over the years, you’ve toured the world and played on numerous recording sessions. Do you prefer live performance or studio work?
PE: I like it all. I’ve grown to enjoy the disciplined focus and process of playing to the microphone, plus the unique collaborations that recording projects can provide. I also love playing to an audience, and I still find it interesting to travel and breathe the air in other places.
KORG: These days, you are active in education and are a professor of Jazz studies at USC; how did you get involved in music education?
PE: Every good jazz musician I know is a good teacher to some degree. It’s simply part of the heritage and responsibility of the music. We pass it along, just as that information was passed to us when we were young. It’s a joyous part of existence. Add to that my father being a terrific teacher, so I picked up the teaching bug from him. You should see my son; he’s the best teacher in the Erskine family!
KORG: And USC Thornton?
PE: The USC Thornton School of Music offers an incredible program for jazz and popular music studies in addition to its well-established classical music program. We are teaching drum set proficiency to classes of students in our new Drum Lab and will be offering percussion proficiency as part of this expanding program. I expect the Wavedrum to play an important part in both a pedagogical and performance role at USC. I also teach private lessons as well as coach the school’s premier combo.
KORG: I understand the program at your school includes some other notable jazz figures …
PE: Longtime friend (and KORG-user) Alan Pasqua is now the chair of the Jazz Studies program ... Bob Mintzer (who I met in high school when we both attended the Interlochen Arts Academy) runs the big band and teaches arranging and improvisation ... Darek Oles is one of our bass instructors ... the four of us have just recorded a new album, “Standards 2, Movie Music” which will be released soon on Fuzzy Music. Jazz is alive and well as far as I can tell.
KORG: You mentioned the Korg Wavedrum earlier. As one of the first musicians to experience the Wavedrum, what do like most?
PE: Who doesn't like instant gratification? That’s what the Wavedrum gives to any person who lays hands on it. It responds as an acoustic instrument while offering a warehouse-full of sounds. I can play it with brushes, sticks or fingers. My favorite feature is its acoustic-quality responsiveness. It’s like a musical Segway: it goes where I want, when I want.
KORG: Any favorite sounds?
PE: Favorite sounds? Just like asking my favorite drummers ... the list is too long.
KORG: Care it sum it up for our readers?
PE: The Wavedrum plays like an acoustic instrument, but provides a state-of-the-art sampler's worth of sound ~ the perfect marriage of age-old drumming and modern technology.
That says it all! Peter, Thank you so much for your time.