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Interview with Peter Erskine

Improvisation is the highest form of pure music-making I can think of.

Last month I interviewed Peter Erskine, one of the most gifted drummers in jazzmusic.

Erskine was born in Somers Point, New Jersey, U.S. He began playing the drums at the age of four. He graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, then studied percussion at Indiana University.

Peter Erskine

His professional career started in 1972 when he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra. After three years with Kenton he joined Maynard Ferguson for two years. In 1978 he joined Weather Report, joining the legendary Jaco Pastorius to form a formidable rhythm section. After four years and five albums with Weather Report and the Jaco Pastorius big band Word of Mouth, he joined Steps Ahead. His big band recordings with the Bob Mintzer Big Band are excellent modern big band jazz/funk performances studied by many students of drums and drumming.

His music-style spanning talent also features on Kate Bush’s 2005 album Aerial, where Erskine teams with bass player Eberhard Weber. Diana Krall, Eliane Elias, Queen Latifah and Linda Ronstadt among many more still choose Peter for his multifaceted musicality. Even Scottish and Finnish Classical Orchestras have had him as a featured musician.
Today, Erskine splits his time as a musician and that of a professor at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.
In 1983, he performed on the Antilles Records release Swingrass ’83.
In 2011 he appeared on stage at the Royal Opera House, London in the new opera Anna Nicole. (wikipedia.org)

Mr. Erskine, you started playing drums at the unusual young age of 4. What made you decide to play this instrument? Did you ever afterwards consider to change your instrument?

I’ve wanted to play the drums for as long as I can remember. I was also drawn to the trumpet, the piano, and classical percussion instruments … also wanted to play the cello and the electric bass for a while…I love music and the sounds that instruments make. It seems that I can make the most useful sounds on the drums, however…so this is what I do.

You’re active in music for more than  5 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing? Is Jazz the right label for your music?

“Jazz” is a good label if we must have labels. But I love to listen to many different kinds of music: “classical,” “ethnic,” “pop,” “folk” … I like to play them, too … but my favorite music to play swings.

The first music that you can remember listening to included recordings your father had (Mike Brannon, jazzreview.com: http://www.jazzreview.com/index.php/reviews/jazz-artist-interviews/item/12870-): (ao) Art Blakey, Henry Mancini, Tito Puente, Julie London, Les Baxter, and the Stan Kenton Orchestra and later on he introduced you to Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Gene Krupa, Elvin Jones and Charlie Persip. Nowadays their music still inspires you?peter and louis hayes

Yes. My favorite music to listen to comes from these early experiences, from my childhood up through my teenage years. But I’ve added some names to the list in the years since…

The piano trio has become one of your favorite formats. “A trio is a very conversational medium; you can easily think of a triangle, where each point of the triangle is as important as the other. I really learned how to play in a trio setting working with John Abercrombie and Marc Johnson, and particularly working with Marc.” you say in an interview in 1994 (http://davecatney.org/interviews/dc02_erskine.pdf).

 Is the piano trio still your favorite format? And, if so, which piano trio today do you like best?

I like trios — horn trios, guitar trios, and piano trios —but my favorite trio is usually the one I am playing with at that moment!

Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died . Sheila Jordan said to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an important part of the jazztradition.” Do you agree with her?

Sheila Jordan is a very wise woman.

You’ve been working with so many beautiful jazz musicians, among many others, Gary Burton, the Brecker Brothers, Bobbie Hutcherson, Jan Garbarek, Jaco Pastorius, Stan Kenton, Weather Report, Joe Zawinul. Do you still learn from your youthful colleagues and what should they learn from you? Are you inspired by them as you were by the colleagues you played with in the seventies?

I hope that I am able to continue to learn from my students and young colleagues, while they learn from me. People the world over have something to teach (to) AND learn (from) one another. LISTENING is the key, to music and to life.

In an interview, last year with  Michalis Limnios (BLUES @ GREECE) you say: “Every style of music informs the next, so I learn not only from jazz music but also from classical music, folk music, popular music, and so on. But jazz has the highest and most rigorous standards when it comes to improvisation, or the art of composing while playing.”  Some musicians, like Ran Blake and Misha Alperin use the term improvising music (Third Stream) for their music. How would you regard this term? Fits this heading in to your music?

Joe Zawinul gave me the best advice when he said (to) “always compose when you play.” Improvising is instant composition. Impovisation is the highest form of pure music-making I can think of … but I love the challenge, discipline and excitement of well-played ensemble music, too. When you combine the two elements (written and improvised), the results can be spectacular. The secret, I think, is to play what you as a musician would most like to hear next.

You conduct clinics, classes and seminars worldwide. You are a Professor of Practice and Director of Drumset Studies at the USC Thornton School of Music, and you are the Jazz Drumming Consultant to the Royal Academy of Music in London. You are a writer. And of course there is the Music. It appears you work night and day. What is your secret?

No secret. But I don’t have so many hobbies outside of music and my work … and, to be honest, I really should learn to relax a bit more. But I love to work at what I do. Maybe the secret is having such a wonderful wife and family (2 children): with their love and support, everything seems possible. I was also very fortunate to have had the love and support of my parents and siblings as I was growing up. Plus some very special mentors and friends over the years. Okay, that’s the secret: love.

Is there jazz in the future? Jazz is the most recorded music style by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth? According to saxophonist and flautist Dave Liebman the future of jazz lies with how it will be absorbed and transformed by parts of the world where it is new to the people. Do you agree with him?no beethoven

This same question is asked every year and every decade. I hear plenty of jazz being played by young musicians. The business is changing very much. And jazz might not be what it used to be in terms of playing opportunities…but it’s my assertion that jazz music will be with us for as long as there’s music. Part of the challenge is in learning how to coexist or flourish with technology as it keeps on changing. But as long as people love a style of music, it will never go away.

Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?

Let’s see: I will be premiering a concerto for drumset & orchestra in November (“Erskine, a Concerto for Drumset & Orchestra” by Mark-Anthony Turnage) with the Beethovenhalle Orchester in Bonn, Germany… and I am overseeing the publication of my autobiography and chronicle of Weather Report titled “No Beethoven” … releasing 3 more play-along apps for iOS devices as well as Mac and PC … working on a new book … I’d like to make a funk album … will be playing the music of MIles Davis and Gil Evans once again with Terence Blanchard and Vince Mendoza w/ the Detroit Symphony … accompanying singer Mary Chapin Carpenter on her new album and tour with orchestra …working free-lance in Los Angeles, making recording sand doing gigs with different trios (I play in at least three trios at the moment: one with Alan Pasqua and Darek Oles — our recording “The Interlochen Concert” is one of my favorites — one with Chuck Berghofer and Terry Trotter — and one with Bb Sheppard and Darek Oles … oh! Plus one with Bob Mintzer and Larry Goldings.

And new albums by Tierney Sutton, Seth MacFarlane, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Janek Gwizdala (did that whole album in less than 4 hours), plus others (played on about twenty album recordings this year) … designing a new portable drumset for DW … producing a compilation of unreleased Weather Report recordings … oh yeah, and playing with the Buddy Rich Alumni All-Star big band in Japan next month! I love challenges, and I hope to do justice to the music. And, I almost forgot, playing drums in the opera “Anna Nicole” at BAM that’s being produced by the NYC Opera … thankfully, my university has granted me a sabbatical leave to do all of these upcoming things. I’m a very lucky man! And busy, too!

Please read Peter’s (Weather Report)  Biography, No Beethoven: http://www.weatherreportdiscography.org/peter-erskines-new-book-no-beethoven/

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Interview with Misha Alperin

June 11, 2013 1 comment

downloadLife inspired my music. Music inspired my life. Music is just a mirror, nothing more.

In march I interviewed Ukrainian pianist, composer and professor of music Misha Alperin.

Alperin was born in Kamenez Podolsky, Ukraine and grew up in Moldavia, where he was classically trained. In 1980, he formed one of the first Moldavian jazz ensembles. He moved to Moscow in the 1980s and founded the Moscow Art Trio with Arkady Shilkloper and folk singer Sergey Nikolaevich Starostin. Since 1993 he has lived in Oslo, Norway; he is professor of music at the Norwegian Academy of Music. He has released several works on ECM Records (wikipedia.org).

Along with Shilkloper, who is wedded to melancholy by his choice of instrument, he has carved out a corner of World jazz and made it his own, a gentle, folksy idiom which never quite sounds so much improvised as tentatively remembered from long ago “(the Penguin Guide to Jazz).

 

Mr.Alperin, you’re active in music for more than 3 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing? Is jazz the right label for your music?

I think, Jazz is not the right label for my compositions. But I am a kind of improvising musician. My inspirations goes beyond so called rhythmical music and that’s why ECM was a right record company for me. Somebody told me, that he thinks I am a jazz musician, who never plays jazz. I like that. I like music more than jazz.

One of the first jazzrecords I bought was “Wave of sorrow”, you made together with Arkady Shilkloper, playing French horn, jagdhorn and fluegelhorn. It is more than jazz or classical or folkmusic. It was your first album for ECM. Your record is described: ”The atmosphere is dim yet also sparkling, as if it were a harsh present slumbering behind the illusory veil of a memory, fond and forever lost.” (ECM-reviews) How do you look back at this album?

Wave of sorrow “ was a special album for me and Arkady Shilkloper. It was like a first love. You will never forget it. This record is full of big contrasts. That time I was inspired of Balkan and Jewish music (and at the same time dreaming.)

In 1998 you recorded North Story, I think a more coherent, balanced album than “Wave of Sorrow”, as In a review of the album Ron Welburn states: “Though Alperin’s roots are eastern European, the CD’s atmosphere invokes Norwegian sentiments”(Jazztime.com, march 1999). In 1993 you moved from Moscow to Oslo and settled there as professor of music at the Norwegian Academy of Music. Do you think these changes influenced your look at, and style, of music?

About the North. It is easy to hear the differences in my music today. No Balkan inspirations anymore. Why not? I live already 20 years in Norway. I know that not every artist is so sensitive to his surroundings where he lives ,but I am influenced always. Even this happens without my wish, totally unconscious.

In 2008 you recorded Her First Dance. The album reunites you with Shilkloper and the German cellist Anja Lechner.” It’s barely a jazz record in the usual sense, but it can’t be put in a single category, except the one marked Special.” (John Fordham in the Guardian, march 2008). It was your first new recording for ECM in 10 years. Why didn’t you record for this label, which “seemed tailor-made for you, fitting its image of northern-European melancholy” as John Fordham says, for so long?

From 2003-2005 I was ill and almost didn’t work. These years I wrote music for Moscow Art trio CD “Instead of making children” for Jaro records as well as I recorded my other “ethno “ recordings for this label. So, my recordings for ECM are different from my recordings for Jaro records. As well I have no exclusive deal with ECM, as most of the artists. Depending on whether Manfred likes the idea or not….

 

You are a member of the Moscow Art Trio (together with Shilkloper and folksinger Sergey Starostin, which was founded in 1990. In 2007 the trio registered a live concert with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra which appeared in 2008 at the album Village Variations. The theme is a medieval rural wedding, inspired partly by the films of Sergei Paradjanov, and partly by your experience playing in Moldavian wedding bands. “An endless night at a medieval village wedding.

Guests are dancing. Their faces very serious and stiff. But not for long. Soon the wine will go to their heads and change their moods dramatically…” as you say (www.alperin.no). Music full of moods and memories of past lives. Please, can you tell me more about it?

Does music inspire your life, or does your life inspire your music? Or both?

 

Yes. Life inspired my music. Music inspired my life. Music is just a mirror, nothing more. I am growing and my taste is changing. Many things that were important and beautiful for me before, even some years ago, are important nor beautiful for me today. But still something has never been changed. Something remains the same. Life experience is influencing this process ,but how –I don’t know.

A few questions for you as a jazzpianist.

 

Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died . Sheila Jordan said in january to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an important part of the jazztradition.” Do you regard yourself as a part of this jazztradition?

 

About Parker. He was very special. I can guess why younger musicians are not inspired by him anymore. I think bebop has too much influenced all jazz musicians without asking their permission. If you see what I mean. Bebop is like a heavy virus. Big Temptation. Once you get it ,you will never get rid of it. Maybe that’s why young jazz musicians are a bit sceptical. It is a very narrow system. It is almost not possible to talk about freedom of improvisation, but that system was perfect for Parker and others. Not for everybody. Hard bop and modal experiences opened up new horizons for improvisers.

download (4)Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?

 

I have today several new projects, which are not finished yet. Amongst them a new project with a Russian accordeon player singer Evelina Petrova and a Norwegian percussionist, beneath a duoproject with vibraphone, And I am working on a new recording with the Moscow Art trio and friends.

 

Further reading on: http://www.jaro.de/?s=alperin&submit.x=-909&submit.y=-533 (website recordlabel Jaro)

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/mikhail-alperin-mn0000897246 (Allmusic)

http://www.alperin.no/ (website Misha Alperin)

and: http://www.rferl.org/content/misha-alperin-jazz-pianist-creativity-unknown/24944856.html (Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty)

 

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