If Peter Erskine isn’t careful, he’s going to start giving jazz, musicians a good name. I mean, we all know about the reputation jazz players have with the general public, right? The stereotypical jazzer is perceived to be a sullen, somber and solitary figure. You can spot jazz musicians immediately: they lend to look melancholy, undernourished, and their eyes have the look of those who are more at home in dimly lit, smokefilled nightclubs than out in the sunshine and fresh air. So what’s with this guy Erskine? How dare he be so healthy; so positive; so happy. If the average person were to encounter a smiling Peter Erskine bopping down the sidewalk in his baseball cap, I doubt if it would occur to that person that Peter is a jazz musician. There’s just something too wholesome about him. Doesn’t he care about his image?
To hell with image—all that matters is how he plays. And when you hear Peter Erskine play, you are hearing a jazz musician. First coming to prominence with Stan Kenton—whose band Peter joined at the age of eighteen—Erskine quickly established himself as a solid and confident player. After three years with Kenton, Peter enrolled at Indiana University, but within a year, was back on the road, this time with Maynard Ferguson. Following his two-year stint with the Ferguson band, Peter turned up in Weather Report, where he was to remain for the next four years. (Peter now holds the record for longevity by a drummer in Weather Report). During his tenure in that group, Peter began turning up with a variety of small jazz groups, both in clubs and on record. One of these groups was Steps, and when the members of that group decided to make a commitment to each other, Peter left Weather Report and moved to New York. Since that time, Peter has been touring with Steps and working with them to prepare for their first U.S. recording. Meanwhile, he has recorded his own first album as a leader. The record, to be released this month, features Michael and Randy Brecker, Mike Mainieri, Don Alias, Eddie Gomez, Don Crolnick, Bob Mintzer and Kenny Kirkland. The music on the album, and the music he is playing with Steps, is mainstream jazz, and Peter couldn’t be happier about that.
RM: I think you surprised a lot of people when you joined Weather Report because you were already somewhat typecast as a big band drummer.
PE: Yeah, I guess so. It’s funny, because when I joined Kenton’s band, I was not listening to big band music at that time. I was in college and had been listening a lot to things like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, who had just come out, and Weather Report, who had come out with their first album about a year before. In fact, I was listening to the second Weather Report album when I got the call from Kenton. So even though I wasn’t really thinking of doing that kind of thing at the time, I had grown up listening to big band music, and it excited this thing that was inside me. I think any kind of a gig that a drummer can take that has strong traditions built into it is an invaluable kind of learning experience. And I did have a lot to learn when I joined Kenton’s group. So I got into the big band thing, never really thinking of myself so much as the “typical” big band player. I was trying to improve the way I played, and I really admired the great big band drummers and the way they carried the band. But I would always find myself feeling a little envious when I would hear small-group drummers—guys who really played the stuff. I would think, “That’s the kind of drumming I really want to play.” Kenton’s band, and Maynard’s band to a lesser degree, were both kind of heavy. I think my touch was kind of heavy to begin with and so it sort of remained that way. I got fast, but I was still hitting the drums pretty hard. When those bands would play opposite other bands, like when I heard Ed Soph play with Woody Herman’s band, I saw how light he was playing and how fleet he was moving. I thought, “That’s more the kind of thing I would like to do, and I would like to be thought of as that kind of player.”
RM: So did you ever feel, yourself, that you were getting typecast?
PE: No, I wasn’t really worrying about it. People tend to try and put a label on most things that they see or hear. It makes it more comfortable for them. They do it with music, with musicians, and with all the popular arts. I don’t think the artists think that way themselves. People always have a different conception of themselves than how others perceive them to be. Of course, you have to get some sort of impression across to the public. But the way I considered it—and still do—was that I knew I was young and still learning and I wasn’t close to the point where I was going to get.
When I joined Weather Report, the first concerts were in Japan, and when we got there, they had a big press conference. The Japanese are incredibly avid followers of jazz, and they really knew the history of Weather Report. So one of the central points of this press conference was the new drummer. A guy stood up and asked me, “What makes you think, having played with Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson, that you’re Qualified to play with Weather Report?” I was thinking, “Geeze, gimme a break. I haven’t even played the first gig yet.” And so I got into this meandering thing about, “Well, good music is good music, and requires the same type thing…” Joe Zawinul interrupted me and said to the guy, “What are you talking about? Weather Report is like a big band. The sound is big and we play like a bunch of guys and it’s a small group too…”
The basic prerequisites are the same. The most outstanding feature, I think, of Weather Report is the conceptual framework of the group. It’s a really incredible combination of extremely modern music, very tonal music, and rhythmic music. To me, it was a natural next step, and apparently, from what they’d heard of me, they felt it would be a natural next step too. Kenton had a lot of tradition. Maynard’s thing was not so traditionally bound. Peo ple would hate the band a lot of times because Maynard would be playing all these rock things. I always thought the best thin g we did with Maynard’s band were the older bebop charts; that’s when the band really shined.
RM: A lot of people just knew the band from “Rocky.”
PE: I think any time a jazz band gets a hit like that, no one should begrudge that particular artist the success. People like Maynard, Chuck Mangione and Bob James lured a lot of people into the jazz department in record stores, who normally wouldn’t have browsed around there too much. And I know first hand that a lot of people got turned on to Weather Report, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and other things because they heard a Chuck Mangione record. They would go to a record store and ask, “What else do you have that’s jazz?” They thought that was jazz. So anyway, that was an exciting thing for Maynard, but I think it steered him in a bit of a funny direction. He started going after more and more movie-theme hits. It’s an objective with what you want to do with your music, but you can’t try to play music with the sole purpose of having a hit. It seems that kind of thinking is doomed, sooner or later. I think the most important thing is to make the best music you can. If it’s really good, it will find its way to people. Doing themes to all sorts of TV shows and stuff is really underestimating the listeners’ intelligence. The artist’s real audience deserves more than that. You want to play for a lot of people, but you do have a faithful audience of listeners. You can’t expect them to continue to more or less support you if you cast aside your musical integrity. That’s the dilemma of trying to be commercial.
Weather Report never tried to be commercial. It’s amazingly unique that Weather Report is as popular as it is, and yet doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. They don’t worry about fulfilling expectations of other people. It creates its own music and continues to have lasting value because the band doesn’t try to achieve anything other than its own creative evolution. Weather Report is my favorite band. It always has been; it always will be. I was very fortunate; it was one of those “right place at the right time” kind of things. It opened an incredible number of doors for me, too, to be able to play with other jazz musicians. When I was living in Los Angeles and when I played outside the context of Weather Report, I gradually built a reputation for being a small-group player. I really enjoyed working with people like George Cables, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Farrell, Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson.
RM: One of the first things you did outside of Weather Report was the Joni Mitchell album, Mingus.
PE: We did that real quick—two afternoon sessions; first takes. It’s a good record, although when I listen to that album now I find the mood a little depressing.
RM: Except for “Dry Cleaner From Des Moines.”
PE: Yeah, “Dry Cleaner” is kind of a bright little number. Originally she tried recording it as a bebop tune. Then I was messing around with that little brush beat and the producer came rushing in and said, “Yeah! Keep doing that.” Then Jaco walked in, made up the bass thing, and we cut the basic track. Then Joni came in and sang on top of it. That was like an impromptu thing; it was fun. I was really knocked out to to be playing on a Joni Mitchell album. From a jazz standpoint, I don’t know if it captured the Mingus musical mood, but that wasn’t the point. It was Joni’s approach to that music and her collaboration with Mingus, and, you know…
RM: That’s what came out of it.
PE: Yeah. I think it should be listened to a little more in that context. A lot of people got real uptight and said, “Jaco was totally the wrong bass player for that.” That wasn’t the point. It wasn’t trying to be a Mingus Dynasty with vocals.
RM: I saw a review that said, “It sounds sort of like Weather Report with a girl singer.”
PE: Awww…reviews! You know, there are some really knowledgeable writers out there about jazz; the ones who have constructive criticisms about the music. You really appreciate that. I don’t like to get defensive about reviews. We’ve all had our share of ghastly reviews. People, for some reason, may really not like you. Basically, if a writer has a good musical comment, I can read it and say, “Yeah, he’s right.” Like one writer was writing about Weather Report and said that I had a tendency to overplay, and I should watch that. And I thought, “Yeah, he’s got a point.” But another guy once said, “As for the drummer, I can think of 500 other drummers I’d rather listen to before I listen to Peter Erskine.” What a thing to say! I mean, I can’t even think of 500 drummers. Hyperbole is sometimes useful, but that’s like doubting the intelligence of everyone. We’re not total fools. When we’re playing, some things don’t work and some things don’t sound so good, but if the writer respects music and musicians at all, he’s got to give a little credit to those musicians. I’m not saying that they should blandly say, “Everything is great.” But at the same time, jazz musicians aren’t trying to put scams over on people, and I don’t appreciate it when a reviewer tries to take away from the obvious craft that’s in something. I always thought a lot of jazz writers got into this “Broadway reviewer” mentality of “Let’s close the show down” kind of thing. That doesn’t help anybody. Some people try to build names for themselves by writing strongly worded diatribes against certain players. That’s pretty worthless musical criticism. If jazz writers really love the music, they should support it. Keep artistic integrity in there and keep the standards high, but be objective and realize that there are a lot of tastes. There are a lot of musicians and a lot of people listening, and we’ve all got to support it if we love it. I once heard jazz critic and writer Ira Gitler speak, and he said that all the jazz musicians he had ever known have been banner carriers for the music, in the way they thought they could best do it. One of the remarkable things about jazz is the love in the music. I think listeners can hear that love, and feel the commitment. I think that’s what makes it special. So if we love it the way we say we do, the main thing is to keep it alive somehow.
RM: That brings us to the records you’ve done on Contemporary Records—a label that’s certainly doing its part to keep jazz alive. You did albums with Joe Farrell, Joe Henderson, George Cables . . .
PE: George Cables is an amazing musician. We have a real natural affinity. I worked with him in a club in L.A. one night, just kind of by accident, and after that we started playing together. I really like his tunes and I love playing with him. That basic rhythm section—George, Tony Dumas and I—also did the Joe Farrell album, and went to Japan with Freddie Hubbard.
The Joe Henderson album was interesting. I played with Chick Corea on some of the cuts. It’s a good record, but I wish I’d played better. I was amazingly uptight that day. My car engine blew up on the San Diego Freeway on the way to do the session. So somebody had to come and pick me up on the side of the freeway and take me to the studio. But it was good. I hope I get to play with Joe and Chick again.
John Koenig is putting out excellent records on the Contemporary label. The sound is a good, intimate jazz sound, and the music is happening. All the stuff is done in a matter of two or three days. That’s the way I like jazz records. The last Weather Report album—the mixing took two or three months, but the basic tracks were done in two afternoons. I like the immediacy; that’s what jazz is all about. I like the multi-track technology, and I love what the studios can do, but there’s something about recording direct to two-track—you can’t beat it! Just that spirit of, “Let’s go for it and do it!” If you get good players, you can do it. So I like the spirit of the records that Contemporary is putting out. A good jazz label.
RM: Did you do any studio work while you were in California?
PE: I did a few movies and a couple of TV shows. I wasn’t tearing up the studio scene by any means. It’s a different art doing studio playing and getting a good recorded sound. There are some musicians who are really amazing at it, and I really respect that. But I decided at some point that I didn’t want to be a “record-date drummer.” I don’t want to be on just anybody’s record. I figure when you make a record, it’s going to be around for a long time, so you want it to stand for something. I like to have a certain intent on a record; I like it to at least be going for something that I like or appreciate, or to be with musicians who I like to play with. So I don’t do a bunch of record dates.
As far as anonymous studio work is concerned, I welcome it to a point. But that stuff drives you crazy after a while. I like movie dates; they’re really challenging. You get a 60-piece orchestra in there, you’ve got the clock, the pressure’s really on, you can’t make mistakes—I like that. Some people just take it in stride, but you could tell that I was more or less new at it because I would go into the booth and listen to the playbacks. I was trying to learn how to get a better sound in those situations. I like going to the movies, so playing on soundtracks was a kick. I’ve played on a lot of soundtracks for the kind of movies they wind up showing at drive-ins as the second feature.
RM: Would you like to tell me the names of any of those, so our readers…
PE: [laughing] No, please! I dragged my girl friend to a couple, just to sit there and listen to the drums mixed way back behind some tire squeals or something. “Listen! That’s me!” She got pretty tired of that.
After a while, if you do too much of that sort of thing, it starts affecting your life. I like to do some studio work, but what I’ve done is very little compared to the people who do it for a living. I like to do just enough for the challenge, and the sport of it. It’s a kick. But I want to be a jazz musician. That’s what I really want to do, and I’m fortunate enough right now that I’m really happy with the music I’m playing. I want it to get better and I know it’s going to get better, but I go to bed at night thinking, “I’m playing the music I want to play.” I think everyone should be able to do the recording thing, and be well-versed enough to play that kind of stuff. Being a professional musician demands that— especially now, for drummers. You can’t just say, “I want to be a jazz drummer” right off and expect to work. You’ve got to do casuals, you’ve got to play dances, you’ve got to play record dates, you get calls for jingles, you get called to be funky—you’ve got to do it. It’s not exactly paying your dues, but it’s a way of being heard by more and more people. Drummers today have to be more eclectic than they used to be. Right now, I’m trying to synthesize all the musical things I love and forge them into some kind of style. If Steps makes it, God willing, then I’ll have the setting in which I can do that. That’s all you can ask for, really.
RM: A moment ago, you mentioned that you love studio technology, but that you also like recording direct, with the whole band. What is it you like about each situation?
PE: It takes real skill to be able to put drums on top of a track that’s already there, or play drums to a click track. You have to make the music happen to this existing track, or this metronome. It takes a fair amount of experience, and you’ve got to keep your ears wide open to be able to fit yourself into it. With the creative process, you can take amazing advantage of the overdub situation. With Weather Report, we would sometimes put a lot of different drum tracks on top of each other. Sonically, it created a whole different sound perspective. We weren’t doing it because it was the only way we could get those rhythms. It was just different. When you record things separately, you can bring certain things out. I’m going to try doing some things live with the Oberheim drum machine. It will essentially be me playing along with myself, because I will have programmed the machine. I like playing off of things that are already there. The overdub thing can be creative, and can be good. However, you can kill the spirit of live music if you’re not careful. You start hearing all the things you want to perfect, and you get caught up in just that thing of overdubbing, and you can end up with just a polished nothing. I like the live to two-track thing more, but still, the potential in multitrack is great. I think what’s happening now with synthesizers and computers and all this stuff is wild. Nothing’s ever going to replace acoustic instruments, but this other stuff is neat too. I dig it. I dig the whole thing.
RM: Do you ever feel that the emphasis right now is on technology rather than music?
PE: Perhaps. It could just be growing pains. For a while, the emphasis is going to be on the technical part of something. It’s like certain movies which have amazing technical effects, but don’t have a story that moves people. With records, the producer and the artist have to say, “Well, this sounds amazing, but what’s most important here?” I’ve seen a lot of records sort of floundering on the coast line between creativity and technology. Creativity takes a good, strong overview, and takes some discipline. So you’ve got to be able to use these tools creatively. There’s nothing wrong with the tools, whether they be a hammer and nails or a 24-track recording machine and a synthesizer. It’s up to us to use the stuff intelligently.
RM: From what you hear, do you think enough people are using the stuff intelligently?
PE: I don’t know if there are enough. I don’t know how intelligent people are either—look how many people are shooting each other. I listen less and less to records now. When I joined Weather Report, I had a bunch of tapes, and Jaco told me, “In a couple of years, you’re not going to be listening to any of that shit.” He was sort of saying that the music we were going to be playing was going to be so heavy that I wouldn’t want to listen to anything else. Now, I haven’t taken that to heart, because when I was young, I was told, “Listen to every kind of music.” And you have to. You have to keep your ears wide open. But you can’t listen to just anything, because a lot of the records coming out are like certain types of food—you get no nourishment from them, and they can actually be bad for you. So in that way, yeah, a lot of people aren’t using the stuff creatively. But like I said, all of this technology can be taken advantage of and used. It comes from a knowledge of music. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it will come out sounding like a big piece of nothing. A lot of music sounds good, but there is no substance. It’s just like cotton candy.
RM: You mentioned using an Oberheim drum machine, and I notice you’ve got one here in your apartment.
PE: I had my first experience with one of the so-called drum computers using Roger Linn’s machine. I programmed it to play the form of Wayne Shorter’s tune, “When It Was Now,” on the Weather Report album. I was programming while they were practicing their parts, so when I was finished, they were ready to do a take. The tape started rolling, I pushed a button, the guys played along with the machine, and I played claves or something, just jamming along with the machine. And that first take was what we used on the album.
First of all, I think they are a fantastic tool for a writer, because he can get an idea of what a tune will sound like in the privacy of his own home. With a synthesizer, a drum machine and one of those little multi-track tape recorders, a composer can, in about an hour’s time, get a tune in pretty good rough shape. I’m using the Oberheim DMX for that very purpose. I’m starting to compose more and more, so I can get a studio-quality drum sound along with the shythesizer and get a good working tape with which to do further exploration or work.
I don’t think there’s any real valid argument that drum machines are going to put drummers out of business, any more than synthesizers have put other musicians out of work. People who are using them in the studios are hiring drummers to program the machines. Drum machines are used because they are their own unique instrument. Some people like the sound of them and they like the process of creating the drum part in this multi-track sense from the ground up. And after they get it the way they want it, it’s consistent—it’s always there.
RM: How did the other members of Weather Report feel about playing along with a machine?
PE: They liked it. It was a different groove, and for that particular tune it worked well. The band was used to working with sequencers, and in essence, that’s what a drum computer is. It’s a very sophisticated sequencer with real drum sounds, digitally stored.
I like to think about the potential for using it live. It can serve as an accompaniment to my playing, or I can trigger it with some kind of trigger system. For example, with my little 18″ bass drum, I might trigger the bass drum sound that’s in the machine. All of a sudden, in the middle of a show, I could have this fat, studio-sound bass drum, instead of just having this one jazz sound. It might permit more sound possibilities live as well as in the recorded context. Right now, I’m working with Oberheim to improve the sounds they have.
On the one hand, I’m intrigued with that stuff; I like electronics and I’m very fascinated by the electronic age. On the other hand, like when I went down to the NAMM show last summer, I thought I would be excited by all the electronic toys. But it was just the opposite. What was turning me on were the drums at the Yamaha booth, Gary Gauger’s RIMS system, and the pre-tuned stuff that Remo had. That is what got me really excited: acoustical instruments pushing air. When you really get down to it, there’s no substitute for the sound of an instrument moving air to a pair of ears. That’s what music is really about. The capabilities of computers hold a lot of promise, but I’d still rather hear Elvin hit a drum than hear anybody push a button.
RM: One of the main complaints about the machines is that they’re too perfect.
PE: Yeah, well you can get around that. The machines do permit the human element to be in there if you know how to program it. Otherwise, if you rely on the automatic clock mechanism, it’s going to auto/correct to the nearest 16th or whatever. So with patience, you can create something that’s close to human. Computers can do certain functions that a human could never do, but yet, the subtleties of human thought are just too complex to program into a computer. The mistake people make is expecting the drum machine to be like a drummer. It’s not. It’s just a machine that records rhythmic patterns. I think the idea of a computer drum machine is great though. In my little apartment, I can put a drum track down so I can hear what a tune is going to sound like. And I’m certainly not putting any drummers out of work. It’s just much easier for me to get the stuff together on tape. And it’s fun! I’ve come up with some different beats using the Oberheim. It’s a different way of approaching rhythms.
When I was in Weather Report, Joe and I had this scheme worked out where we were each going to have an Oberheim drum machine. Then by means of cassette interface, we were going to send ideas to each other on cassette, play them back on our own machine, and see what the other one had come up with. That was going to be our long-distance way of rehearsing new stuff when I was in New York.
RM: Let’s move from drum machines to the real thing. You’ve been using Yamaha for the last couple of years.
PE: Going to Japan on several occasions gave me the opportunity to play Yamaha, and I was perfectly delighted with them. The craftsmanship on the shells is about as good as you could ask for. They keep their round and the heads sit perfectly on the shells; there are no funny bumps where there shouldn’t be. I don’t know exactly what the physics are; all I know is that they sound really good. A lot of people have commented on the warmth they hear from my drums.
The hardware is tremendously designed. Their lighter weight hardware is more than adequate for my needs. Also, it’s easier to haul around and work with on the bandstand. And nothing has ever gone wrong with any of my Yamaha hardware yet.
RM: I think a lot of people are somewhat suspicious of endorsements nowadays. A lot of drummers jump around from company to company, and people start to won der if the artist really cares about the instrument, or if it’s just another business deal.
PE: The drum companies have been pretty generous with a great number of artists. As a practical business thing for the companies, it gets their instruments out there where they’re seen by a lot of people. And in its best role, the artist is providing a very good service for the drum company by providing invaluable feedback about the instrument. The endorsees will be the first to get hold of a new thing, so they can give the feedback of “This is good; this is not so good.” So the endorsement thing makes good sense for the companies. They’re giving away a lot, but I think they’re getting it back.
It’s a gamble. I think some of us make better endorsers than others. Some guys endorse something and then turn around and hock what they’ve been given. Or then there was this drummer who was with one of the large drum companies. He became a great embarassment because he turned up in one of the so-called “men’s magazines,” and he was talking about all sorts of distasteful stuff. The whole endorsement idea is aimed at the young market; it’s to get the kids to buy the big drumsets. And here’s someone who totally abused the responsibility he was supposed to have with that. It showed a total lack of sensitivity to his role of being a role model for young people, which is what you are when you endorse something.
And then there’s a lot of jumping around in the endorsement thing. If anyone cares to look through the past few years of Modern Drummer, they’ll see a lot of the same faces appearing behind a lot of different drums. Everyone has their reasons. Maybe they’re searching for the instrument they have the best rapport with. But I think the way some of the guys jumped around all over the place made their endorsement mean less.
I thought very seriously before I changed my endorsement because I was very conscious of that. But I just finally felt that I had to follow my integrity in terms of the instrument I wanted to play, and Yamaha drums seemed to come closer to the ideal of what I wanted to play on. So I kind of feel like a company man. They’ve been generous enough to let me use an instrument that’s really terrific. I hope they feel that I provide a service for them in return, in terms of promoting their product, speaking well about it, and giving feedback to them.
The Zildjians have also been tremendously generous and helpful. I have a set of cymbals now that are totally incredible: 14″ New Beat hi-hats, an 18″ flat ride, a 17″ crash, a 16″ swish, a 10″ splash, and a 20″K. ride—one of the new K.’s made in Boston.
A few years ago, I endorsed a couple of things in the electronic percussion realm that I don’t really use any more. For a second, I thought I was getting carried away and putting my name on too many things. Sure, it doesn’t hurt, and I got a lot of exposure. Somehow, Maynard’s band really attracted a lot of endorsement opportunities. It’s very flattering when you’re young in the business and all of a sudden you’re getting your picture all over the place. But eventually, I was getting tired of seeing all those ads, so I put somewhat of a moratorium on it for a while. Now I just stick to the basics: Yamaha drums, Zildjian cymbals, Remo heads and Vic Firth sticks.
RM: Over the years, your drums and cymbals have gotten smaller.
PE: My touch has lightened up. I’m playing a lighter drum head, using lighter sticks, playing smaller cymbals and smaller drums. I like the tone quality I’m getting now. I feel like I’m just discovering how to hit a drum. When I was with Kenton’s band, I used to always break cymbals. I don’t think I was hitting them right. But now I don’t break them. I don’t break drumheads like I used to, or sticks. I’m lightening up my playing; getting a nice sound. I used to beat the sound into the instrument more than get it out. It’s just understanding what the instrument is supposed to sound like. It’s funny—a lot of the stuff my teacher, George Gaber, told me ten years ago is just starting to register. Sometimes I think, “Geeze, I wish I’d known what he was talking about back then.” But you can’t. You just have to trust that as you get older, you’ll put one and one together and figure out what they were talking about all along.
I don’t mind playing larger drums, but that “big drumset” thing, to me, is kind of outdated. At the NAMM show, I saw these huge drumsets, which may appeal to a certain market, but there’s nothing in that for me. The stuff seems overblown, and I’ve played some pretty big drumsets in my time. Some guys do use them very well. Steve Smith has a big double-bass set, and he sounds great. But for me, personally, I feel kind of intimidated when I get behind a big set of drums. I’m not inspired to start hitting them. I really like the small sets. Over at the Gretsch exhibit, they had a ton of big drumsets, but they had one little jazz set—18″ bass, 12 and 14″ tom-toms—and that was great. Those are the drums, right there. I love my Yamaha drums, and I’m a company man when it comes to those matters, but someday I’m going to get myself a little Gretsch jazz drumset. I think every jazz drummer should have one. Have it sitting over by the fireplace and on those inspired evenings play a couple of Tony Williams licks.
One thing I was very distressed to see at the show—a lot of companies are drilling big holes in their drums. I don’t understand these “cutaway” drums. I guess it’s a gimmick to get people to buy drums. I don’t want to sell the r&d technology short, but I don’t really think that’s what a drum is all about. It was a little distressing to me to see drums that were missing half of their thing. All these drums butchered—that turned me off.
RM: When you were with Kenton, didn’t you use single-headed drums?
PE: Yeah. I went to single head because they had more of that dry, “chunky” rock sound. When I was in college, that was kind of the sound I had in my head, and it worked okay with Kenton, but it was really too dry. Finally, I went to a two-headed drum with a coated Ambassador on top and a clear one on the bottom, and I was very pleased when I did that. As you grow, you go through different stages of influence, and for some reason I got into the one-head thing for a while. I don’t like the sound of a one-headed drum anymore. I associate it with that kind of “studio” sound. Single-head drums do have a certain unique sound, but I, myself, don’t like that sound.
Then you have your single-head drums that come in fantastic shapes. Maybe for certain rock ‘n’ roll type things those drums are cool, but they’re certainly not practical. They’re too big to take on gigs. When you’re a young, working drummer, you’ve got to work a lot of gigs. I worked a lot of dances, weddings, conventions, shows, and that kind of stuff. That’s a pretty limited design for a drumset from a practical viewpoint.
You have companies like Yamaha, who’s making a quality drum, and I think some of the other companies are trying to make good, honest drums. That’s what the industry needs and should be doing. For the American drum makers, Drum Workshop is where I see hope. I’m only mentioning it because the quality of the drums really impressed me. I think the rest of the American drum companies will catch on and realize that they simply have to make a good, quality drum. No amount of holes they drill is going to make the drum any better. It’s the quality of the wood and the roundness of the shell that matters. Take the hoop off and set the shell down on a glass table and see how it sits. If that drum sits perfectly flat, you know that a head has a fighting chance of sounding good on it. If it doesn’t sit flat, well “caveat emptor.” So look at how well the shell is made. That’s what it comes down to. All the space-age materials and geometric shapes and holes drilled into the shell don’t amount to anything without that basic quality being there. That’s a very old-fashioned sounding kind of thing to say, but as I get older, I realize that’s what drum-making should be about. I hope the American drum companies are going to start realizing this. The quality control in the American drums got a little shaky, and that’s why the Japanese drums did so well. It just comes down to an instrument that sounds good and functions well. These gimmick things…
And the hardware—hopefully the “bigger is better” idea is being downplayed. I don’t know what happened. They were making cymbal stands that wouldn’t even fit into a trap case. So what good does that do anybody? Except the endorsees who get all that shit free, and they have big, special cases for that stuff.
RM: And big roadies to carry it for them.
PE: Even the big roadies don’t like that stuff. I wonder what ever happened to the little flush-base cymbal stands. I hope they still make them. I always loved those little Ludwig and Slingerland flat-base stands. When I joined Kenton, that’s what I had, and I was using huge cymbals. Like I said, my Yamaha hardware is not that big, but I can get the cymbal stands as high as I need them—and I get them up there—and the stuff is sturdy. It just takes good design.
RM: A lot of people feel that loud music calls for big drums. Weather Report was loud, but you were using an 18″ bass drum.
PE: At first, I had a 22″ bass drum, with a hole in the front head and a little bit of padding. I got a good dry sound, it was easy for the sound man, and it worked well. But then I switched to an 18″, and had it tuned up fairly tight. I remember the first rehearsal after I did that, we went through a tune and Wayne turned around, smiling, and said, “Definition! All right] Definition!” There was this tone; the drum was speaking. If your drums have tone, they will cut through. If you’re playing with a loud group, it generally means that the drums will be miked. A long time ago, Steve Gadd said in an article, “It’s easier to get a good sound out of a small drum tuned looser than a large drum tightened up too much.” Steve can get an amazingly huge drum sound, and his drums are not that big or that deep. So you don’t need big drums. I mean, I like a beefy floor tom sometimes, and there’s nothing that sounds like an 18″ floor tom. But an 18″ floor tom fills a pretty unique need, I think. If someone wants a set for a variety of things, they don’t need drums that big. I currently use a 14″ floor tom.
RM: When you first joined Weather Report, the group worked as a quartet for a while, and then Robert Thomas, Jr. joined on percussion. For you, what was the difference?
PE: Bobby made it a lot easier when he joined. The rhythm section before I joined was Alex [Acuna] and Manolo [Badrena], which I thought was the greatest. The album Heavy Weather came out, and I thought, “Wow! Thish Weather Report. This is outasight!” By the time I joined, I think Zawinul wanted a little more clarity and not quite so much of a Latin angle on the thing. For a while, Joe grew kind of disaffected with all the shakers and things, so he opted for the quartet setting. Immediately, there was a lot more focus on the rest of the band. The drums provided a clearer pulse so that Joe, Wayne and Jaco could explore playing a little differently. When Bobby came on, we had explored the quartet framework about as far as we were going to get. Bobby relieved me from having to go for a lot of different colors or filling in. I had started to branch out and do a little percussion. I had a little African balifon, some Synares, some tuned cowbells, and some gongs and stuff.
I was overplaying for a while with the group. I thought I always had to be filling in because Joe wanted to hear a lot of different things. He wanted to hear this beat going, but at the same time, he wanted to hear this other thing. It caused me to overplay for a while, because I was so worried about trying to do all these things I thought he wanted. Rhythmically, the key to Weather Report, I think, is that there’s like two different time things going on. There’s this one beat that’s really propulsive and chugging ahead, and then the backbeat is like in half time. So we’d have this jazz thing with the cymbal, moving ahead, while the snare drum and bass drum were playing a half-time rock thing. It was a nice blend of contrasting rhythm things. It moves a certain way. When Bobby came in, it kind of enabled us to get closer to that idea. Bobby is a unique percussionist. He plays congas, bongos and cymbals all with his hands, so it is a different touch.
RM: One of the many unique things about that group was the fact that Jaco didn’t function like a normal bass player.
PE: Yeah, he’d be all over the place. It was Jaco who heard me and got me into the group, more or less. I guess he heard something in my backbeat that he felt was strong enough so he would not have to do strict, traditional bass playing. Jaco sometimes played the bass like a guitar, or he would start playing melodies. I’m working with Jaco now in his Word of Mouth group, and it’s just bass, drums, percussionist, and two horns. The interesting thing is the openess of sound when the bass is not playing pure bass things. Somehow it reminds me of modern dance—the way the stuff moves around. It is different. Some drummers probably wouldn’t enjoy playing with that kind of thing. They like more traditional bass playing, which I love too, but playing with Jaco has always been a treat for me. The thing with Jaco is, you can’t get excited and just start thrashing around the drumset when he’s doing something. See, anything in music needs a reference point. Weather Report stuff was getting out harmonically, and melodically it could be really strange, but there was a strong rhythmic reference point underneath—a cooking funk rhythm or something. If the stuff is getting spacy, there has to be some kind of reference point somewhere or else it’s like chaos. Certain free music is okay with chaos, but the best free music, if you really listen to it, has some very structured things to it. Any good free art—whether it be paintings, music or architecture—has a very strong sense of structure hidden somewhere in there. So that’s the thing. If you’re playing with a real creative musician, each of you, at certain points, has got to be respecting that sense of structure and keeping a basic reference point. Not only for the listeners, but for the musicians as well. Otherwise, you’re just rambling up there.
What I learned from Weather Report was not to get “miscellaneous” on the drums. One night, when I first joined the band, I got a little carried away. I was just filling in all over the place, much in the style of some drummers I used to listen to who were popular a few years ago. Joe and Jaco said, “If you ever play that way again, we’ll kill you!” [laughs] They wanted me to always be composing, to be rhythmically creative, to never play unimaginatively, but not to play miscellaneously. It had to be clear, it had to be solid and strong—in other words, it had to be supportive. It’s like the thing Zawinul said years ago about Weather Report: “We always solo and we never solo.” And that’s the way the drums had to be: always creative but never just bashing all over the place, or taking up too much musical space.
RM: Why did you leave?
PE: I just thought it was time. I was in the group almost four years, and I wanted to come to New York and be a jazz musician and start exploring musical things a little bit more on my own. There are no burnt bridges or anything. I’ll say this: I learned the most I’ve ever learned about music and about life from working with that group— especially Joe Zawinul. I’m real happy that we finished that last record and got it out, because I think it shows really well how the band was playing and what point we’d reached conceptually. To me, Weather Report is a band about change, so it was time for something new, for them and for me. That’s the fun. Weather Report is a musicians’ band and people are always eager to see what they’re going to do next. And you know it’s always going to be good. So I look forward to seeing what they’re going to come up with.
RM: Most young players, I think, dream of someday getting to play with “legendary” musicians. You were relatively young when you joined Weather Report. Were you ever awed by the fact that you were in a band with people like Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter?
PE: Sometimes it would strike me at odd times, like, “Wow, here I am shopping for post cards with Wayne Shorter!” But when you’re actually playing, you just feel like one of the boys up there. You’re right in the middle of it and you’re doing it and it’s great. There are times when you do sort of get outside yourself when you’re playing. Things can get to the point where nothing can go wrong. You’re not being self-conscious about your playing; you are, more or less, outside of yourself— kind of like you’re out in the audience listening. Your ears are totally open to every thing. You hear everything that is happening because you are not worried about how you sound. And that moment is not something you can interrupt by thinking, “Geeze, here I am playing with these guys!” You feel incredible happiness that it sounds that good and that you’re there doing it, but it’s more of a Zen kind of thing.
RM: So, ideally, you concentrate on the music itself, rather than on what you are playing?
PE: It’s like you know something so completely that you don’t have to worry about technique or anything. There’s nothing between the brain and the reflexes—the source of the action and the actual physical completion of the action. If you’re listening to yourself, and you’re auditing everything you’re playing, you get these microsecond delays. Your time will start getting funny and creatively you choke up, instead of it all being very open. It’s like if you see another drummer walk into the club and you start worrying about how he thinks you sound, then you don’t sound as good. If you don’t know that anyone’s there, you sound great. When you’re relaxed and you are just listening to everything, you have less barriers. Your senses are totally responding to everything. It’s an egoless kind of thing, and that’s when you sound the best. That’s when you kill ’em! That’s when you get down, really bad.
RM: It can be stimulating for a musician to play with a lot of different people, indifferent situations. It can also be stimulating when certain musicians stay together year after year and grow together. Weather Report seemed to combine those two ideas: the group has been together for a long time, but they also take breaks during which the individual members can pursue other projects.
PE: Joe Zawinul encouraged me to play with a lot of other musicians, and play outside the group. I think it’s good to play around with a lot of different things, and to hear something new and try to play it. The ability to play all kinds of music is great, but after a while, to satisfy your own sense of musical maturity, you have to build on something. You have to get your own sound together; your own tradition, of sorts; your own playing style.
I’d had visions of staying with Weather Report for years. I like the association of certain musicians that has gone on for years. I respect it, and I think it’s very important because this age right now seems very transitory. People don’t stick with anything—couples don’t stick together, people get divorced like crazy; bands don’t really stick together, there are always different groupings of musicians, and they work for a little while and then don’t. To see some musicians have real commitments to each other—it’s not just heartwarming, it’s an inspiring kind of thing to see. I think it produces good musical results. Joe and Wayne, for example, are real partners, in the creative sense of the word. Weather Report, in that sense, wasn’t a cooperative band. We were hired to play with them. But Steps is a cooperative group. We share. We make it or break it together. Really feeling a part of the musical, creative and financial success of something is an important incentive for a band to stick together.
It was great being in Weather Report. And yet, to leave the relative security of that to try and do something on my own seemed natural. To me, it didn’t seem like any big deal. But it did, I guess, answer a need in me to find a little more of my own niche, evolving more towards the kind of player I want to be. My coming to New York was, in part, a desire to work with certain musicians—like the guys in Steps—and to find the musicians who I would like to explore music with for years to come. I feel that with Steps, I’m getting to play a lot of music that, for the first time, really sounds like me. It’s a little closer to what I want to sound like and be perceived as, as a drummer.
RM: Wasn’t Steps originally put together for Japan?
PE: Yeah. Originally, Steve Gadd was the drummer. Luckily, I got involved with the group at a certain point. For a while, it was just kind of a get-together thing where we had a good market in Japan and we would play in New York City. But then it got to the point of, “What are we going to do with our futures? Are we going to get serious or what? We have to know.” We decided that we all liked the band enough to” make a commitment to it, so that Steps would be our first priority. If a Steps tour comes up, everything else has to be scheduled around that. That contributed to my ultimate decision to leave Weather Report. I’d made touring commitments with Steps for the summer, and after that, Weather Report decided to do a summer tour. You can’t be in too many bands at once.
Steps has all the people who I love to play with. I think Michael Brecker is the musician of the ’80s. His playing amazes me more every time I hear him. Mike Mainieri—I’ve been a fan of his since I was young. He’s got the four-mallet thing totally together, but it’s coming from a more soulful thing than a lot of four-mallet players. A lot of vibes players are into a more cerebral type thing; Mike gets down! And I’m getting an amazing experience playing with Eddie Gomez. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Eddie has been the best thing to happen to me in terms of my time function. And Don Grolnick is a great piano player and composer. I’m learning a lot from him about different types of music.
The whole group is learning from each other. We have a lot of new music and we’re still working on it, but there’s a certain identity of sound already there. Our goal is to play the best improvisational music we can, whether it be in a Police-like rhythmic framework or it’s bebop. The idea is that the songs be good compositions, and the compositions allow improvising. And there should be a certain spirit—there’s just a certain jazz spirit or attitude we all have—that colors the sound. We’re not trying to make something that will sell; we’re just going to do it If by its own virtue it sells, I think that’s the only way to do it.
RM: You recently did your first album under your own name for Contemporary Records. Were you happy with the way it came out?
PE: I am tremendously pleased with it. We did it in two days, and recorded everything, except for one tune, direct to two track, so the audio quality and fidelity is outstanding. It’s a live session—no overdubs—and everything was first or second takes, so the album is very fresh sounding. We did one tune multi-track where I overdubbed percussion and played a little bit of Oberheim synthesizer. And then in addition to the ensemble tunes, there is one little drum solo I played on there, just as a little signature. The drum sound we got is reminiscent of 1960s Blue Note jazz albums. It’s not that real upfront kind of drum sound, but the blend is real good and you can hear everything real well. David Baker was the engineer and he did a very good job. I’m very happy with the balance and the texture of the sound.
I really couldn’t be too much more pleased with it as a first representation under my own name. John Koenig, the producer, gave me the freedom to pick the material, the musicians and the concept of the album. I think it’s the best playing I’ve done on record, and I’m also happy to have been able to present the other players in that kind of a setting. And I really loved getting to play with Don Alias on this album. He plays on every tune and he made everything completely smoking. Playing with him is a 100% treat. We play very well together.
RM: Did the two of you have to work things out in advance so you wouldn’t get in each other’s way?
PE: No, we didn’t plan a thing. We are able to fall naturally into all sorts of different directions. Another amazing percussionist, who I’ve only played with a couple of nights, is Alex,Acuna. You can put him on any instrument and he is a complete groove to play with. There are many great conga players around, but the guys who have excited me the most—Don and Alex—are both, interestingly enough, also drumset players.
RM: Have you ever done anything with them using two drumsets?
PE: No, but that would be interesting. When you’re playing with musicians like those guys, they’re so good you could be playing any instrument. Alex or Don could pick up a soda bottle and make it sound great. I’ve seen Zawinul do that. He could pick up the dumbest little toy instrument and make incredible music with it.
RM: I’ve seen Airto play a groove on a pack of cigarettes.
PE: Oh yeah, Airto is the king of that kind of stuff. That’s what real music making is about: being able to make great music and create joy with anything. Just by clapping your hands and singing—that’s the purest form. Then you start slapping your hands against something—bongos or whatever—and you’re talking about some music.
RM: You wrote three of the tunes on the album. Was that your first experience with composing?
PE: I wrote some stuff in high school and college for theory class. I always opted to take composition classes because composing is very important. I hear a lot of music inside me but it’s hard to get it out. When you begin composing, like I am now, you get a lot of vignettes—little portions that sound neat—but to expand on that you need more compositional technique. I’m going to have to start studying seriously. I usually set up a rhythm on my drum machine and then start improvising on the synthesizer. I don’t have great keyboard facility or compositional technique, but improvising always brings out something original and creative. That gives me the germ for a new tune.
I can see why when songwriters write one tune they want to write more. It’s intoxicating to hear your music played. The first time Steps played my “Coyote Blues,” people told me, “You looked like the father of a newborn baby.” Just hearing it was such a kick. Of course, with musicians like that, you don’t have to write too much and they bring it to life. They bring the humble little notes you have on paper to sounding like some real music.
So I recommend to all drummers to study keyboard. Even if piano lessons aren’t fun, don’t give it up. Take keyboard, learn theory, learn harmony, and compose. Don’t just dip your toes in the water—jump in and start doing it.
RM: A lot of drummers can’t compose because they don’t know enough about music.
PE: You’ve got the same responsibility to know as much about the music as any other musician. I mean, drums are initially easier to play than a violin or clarinet. You just walk up and hit a drum and it makes a sound. With a clarinet, it can take a week just to get a squeak. But after a point, the artistic demand is equally as high on all instruments. Even to get a perfect sound out of a triangle takes true artistry. The percussionists in the New York Philharmonic are as great musicians as anyone else in that orchestra. And I couldn’t conceive of thinking of Elvin Jones in terms any less than Coltrane.
A drummer has to know music and song forms and so on. When you’re playing with a band and they say “Take it,” you’ve got to be able to play on the tune form—whether it’s a 12-bar blues, a standard, or whatever—and play a musical solo. If you know the melody and harmony, that will all come out in your drumming. When people say that someone is a “musical drummer,” it’s because the drummer plays with harmonic and melodic sense. Max Roach is a great example of someone who plays musically on the drumset, and he knows all of the mallet instruments and he composes. That’s what it takes.
Guys like Michael Brecker, who’s a horn player, and Jaco, who plays bass—these guys can sit down at my drumset and sound great. They’ve all got their own beats. All of the horn players who have played with Elvin can play mean drums. It’s important for them to know about the drums, and it’s important for a drummer to know about the things that make up the rest of the music world. After a show, Joe and Jaco would sometimes talk about something they had played like it was an inside joke. They would say things like, ” … and when you went into that E-flat and I played…,” and they would be laughing with glee because one guy played this substitution on top of that. You’ve got to learn the language. You’re in for a lot more fun. I have some books Dan Haerle wrote for keyboard, and I’m eating them up, learning about voicings. I know a good voicing when I hear one, but when I look at the keyboard, I can’t extract one as quickly as I want to. I wish I’d taken my piano lessons more seriously. I used to go, “Yuk! I hate it!” I used to make up excuses to cancel my piano lesson because I hadn’t practiced. You know, you can only do so much when you’re a kid and still remain a kid. But the good music schools require a certain keyboard proficiency. Most people get through it and then forget about it, but the intent behind it is good. Look at Jack DeJohnette—I think he originally was a piano player. I’ve heard him play piano on gigs. It’s wild.
RM: Philly Joe plays piano too, and Elvin plays guitar.
PE: Yeah? He plays guitar? I didn’t know that!
RM: Check out “Elvin’s Guitar Blues” on the Heavy Sounds album.
PE: That’s it. That’s why he plays so melodically. He knows the stuff.
RM: Do you ever feel that too many drummers are just concerned with chops, rather than with music?
PE: I don’t know. That was always the picture. It’s amazingly seductive to go wild on the drums because it feels so good, and a lot of us go through periods of overplaying the instrument. And there’s the whole thing of the glorified drum solo where people go crazy. People like that. People like to watch a building burning down and people like to see a drummer go crazy during a drum solo. But a musician has to think, “What am I doing with this instrument here? What do I want to say?” I think when you’re younger, you go for that flashier kind of thing because you get that feedback of “Wow!” when you’re doing a big-deal drum solo and sweat is flying and you’re having a heart attack by the end of the thing. But after a while you prove to yourself that you can play that stuff, and getting “Wows!” from the audience becomes less and less important. It’s good to play with some energy, and I think it’s good to blend a little bit of drama into your music. You want to get your audience into what you’re doing. But as far as long drum solos and stuff, I think you should ask yourself, “Musically, is that really what’s happening?” A lot of musicians aren’t really crazy about a lot of drum solos. I think the trend is more towards musicality.
When I hear a drummer, I listen for the propulsion of the time, the smoothness, the clarity of the rhythms, and if it just feels good. When I hear great drummers, I find myself laughing. It’s so much fun to hear someone do something well. My mouth can drop open at what some drummers do, but I don’t find myself really feeling good that I heard it, as opposed to the way I feel when I hear one of the real masters. I listen to bebop drummers a lot for inspiration. I think that’s a good thing to check out if you want to play any jazz at all, because these drummers are geniuses—the musicality and sense of humor they have; the way the stuff swings; the way it moves. I want to get closer to the way Elvin Jones plays—the way the sound just rolls out and propels everything.
Listening to some of the more contemporary classical music has been a real good influence because of the way some composers do the variations of themes, and the way they compress and expand the themes. I try to do that when I compose at the drums. When I play a solo, I try to keep it thematic. To me, whatever you play has to continue what has gone on before and move towards what will go on after. It has to make some kind of musical sense. It’s not just going wild. It’s like telling a good joke—it has to build to something. But some comedians get laughs just by running around and falling down a lot.
RM: I’ve spoken to some musicians who have very definite ideas about where they fit in historically with what they are doing. Do you ever look at yourself in that way?
PE: Not really. I have a pretty good sense of self, in that I know what I can do, what I can’t do, and what I want to do. After playing with Weather Report, I discovered that there are a lot of things I want to learn, but one thing I do know is, after playing with them, I’m not afraid to play with anyone. I feel strong as a musician, and I feel confident in my ability to play the drums, and I’m glad for that. You can’t sit around and worry about how people are going to judge you historically, because then you will be living in some kind of future tense. It’s a very ego-oriented trip. It’s like thinking, “When I’m dead, everybody’s really going to miss me.”
I feel a comfortable synthesis of what I play. I’m a product of our nuclear age. I would love to be coming from a more jazz direction, but I love playing all sorts of stuff. So I just hope I can continue playing with good musicians for the rest of my life, because I really don’t enjoy much else. I don’t have too many hobbies. I guess I’m not the well-rounded genius I always hoped I would be. [laughs] Athletically, I’m a disgrace. If Modern Drummer puts together a softball team, don’t bother calling me for it. I’ve got to get that a little more together, because sports are a good thing for musicians to be in. It keeps you vital. You can’t just be a musician. You’ve got to get out in the world.
RM: That idea of a musician needing to get out in the world brings up something you said earlier about learning a lot about life while you were in Weather Report. How does life experience affect one’s musicianship?
PE: I think the most vital music is created by musicians who are vital people. They have something to offer. Music is only a reflection. Once you get past the things you learned in school—the techniques and licks and whatever—it’s what you are and what you believe in that’s going to come out. Sometimes that’s a subtle influence and sometimes it’s pretty profound. Certainly in drumming it’s very evident. You can hear from the music what kind of person that drummer is. The amount of space, the sensitivity which involves shadings and touch, the way the music is propelled, how hard it swings or how gutsy it is—that’s all reflective of a drummer’s personality. The reason a person plays a certain way is because something inside the person picks up on something and uses that in the music.
RM: Do you ever consciously call on some experience or emotion while you’re playing?
PE: No. Sometimes that inadvertently happens. You might flash on something, but that’s very rare. Only a couple of times have I been playing my instrument where at the same point I got very upset about something and maybe started hitting the drums harder. Drums are a nice physical release, and that release can be good. Sometimes in Weather Report, Joe would try to provoke certain outbursts from me on the drums to sort of let me experience the freedom that comes. But even if you get real angry on your instrument, you have to control and discipline your anger. You can’t just go apeshit and start banging away at everything. You have to channel that anger into a statement. So I don’t consciously call on things, like “method” music making. It just seems to come out.
There’s also a certain amount of artistic integrity and professionalism involved. Just because you’ve had a lousy day you don’t go out and make your audience feel uncomfortable. I mean, you’ve got to realize that people pay money to come and hear you. So you’ve got to do the best you can under the circumstances. It’s hard to separate, but yet, a lot of times I’ve played my best when I’ve really felt sick. I’ve had the flu or something, and the last thing I’m worried about is how I sound—I just want to get through it. When that happens, you often play very well because you’re not self-conscious about how you sound. You’re functioning on a real musical level. The final thing it comes down to is, how does it sound? When you’re talking about being a professional musician, that’s all that matters. Not every night is going to be the best, but you try your best and see what you get.
Notes On Peter’s Style
This first example is the type of thing I used to play on certain Weather Report tunes, such as “Night Passage.” This was typical of many of Zawinul’s compositions, where he would want one rhythm that was moving ahead (the cymbal part), with a half-time thing underneath (the snare drum part).
This second example is the basis of the solo piece “In Statu Nascendi,” on my album. The feeling on this is in-between straight eighths and swung eighths. With jazz interpretation, the last 16th of the hi-hat is played at the same time as the eighth note on the snare at the end of the first bar. This is sort of a jazzed-up baiao, which is a Brazilian beat.
Although this sounds fast, I’m not thinking a fast “1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4,” but rather, taking it two bars at a time, each downbeat becomes a “l-(breath)-2” kind of thing. By approaching it in this manner, you can play a fast tempo without it sounding frantic.
These examples are just to give the essence of what I’m doing. One thing I do, which is difficult to notate, is play a lot of little “ghost” notes on the snare drum. These are fill-in notes that are not always strongly articulated. Sometimes you almost don’t hear them, but they’re there, and it’s typical in a lot of jazz drumming. However, these do not simply fall into a “no-man’s land” of the time. They are still played with rhythmic precision.