DESERT ISLAND DOZENS: PETER ERSKINE by Eric Novod (editor)

In the music world, but especially in the jazz world, everyone wants to know what everybody else is listening to. So it is a special occasion when you can sit down with a respected and admired musician and find out what tracks influenced them more than any others. It is with this in mind that “Desert Island Dozens” is launched at jazz.com – an inside look at the twelve all-time favorite tracks from some of jazz’s all-time favorite players.



For its opening installment, modern drumming luminary Peter Erskine presents us with his “Desert Island Dozens.” Peter has shared the bandstand with Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Weather Report, Joe Henderson, Jaco Pastorius, Steps Ahead, Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires, John Abercrombie, Bob Mintzer, Michael Brecker, and Diana Krall, among many others. He is also an esteemed author and teacher, publishing many drum method books and teaching at universities and drum schools across the country. His most recent release, Worth the Wait, from Peter Erskine, Tim Hagans, and the Norbotten Big Band, was released on Peter’s independent label, Fuzzy Music.


Duke Ellington (featuring Paul Gonsalves): Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue

Track

Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue (1956)

Group

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

CD

Ellington at Newport 1956: Complete (Columbia/Legacy C2K64932)

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Musicians:

Big band featuring soloists Duke Ellington (piano), Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Cat Anderson (trumpet)

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Recorded: Newport, R.I., July 7-8, 1956

Albumcoverellingtonatnewport

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: Duke Ellington introduced this tune at Newport ’56 by stating the following: “And now we would like to play some of our 1938 vintage Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue. These are separated by an interlude by Paul Gonsalves.” Little did Duke know what an understatement this would become. E.N.)

The legendary 27-chorus solo by Paul Gonsalves on Diminuendo in Blue during the Ellington band’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 nearly caused a riot! The relentless intensity, inventiveness, and swing is a marvel to listen to and behold.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Count Basie: Counter Block

Track

Counter Block

Group

Count Basie and His Orchestra

CD

Breakfast Dance and Barbecue (Roulette 52028)

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Musicians:

Count Basie (piano), Frank Foster (tenor sax), Thad Jones (trumpet), Joe Williams (vocals), Frank Wess (reeds), Marshall Royal (alto sax), Billy Mitchell (tenor sax), Charlie Fowlkes (baritone sax), Joe Newman (trumpet), Wendell Culley (trumpet), Snooky Young (trumpet), Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Al Grey (trombone), Benny Powell (trombone), Henry Coker (trombone), Freddie Green (guitar), Eddie Jones (bass), Sonny Payne (drums).

Composed by Thad Jones

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Recorded: Miami, Florida, May, 1959

Albumcovercbasiebreakfastdance

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This performance by the Basie band took place during a late-night gig at a Disc Jockeys of America convention on May 31, 1959. The dance for 2000+ people started at 2 a.m. and ended at 7 a.m. (Basie’s band had been booked at Birdland that week. The band flew to Miami late at night, played the gig and then returned to NYC after the gig in time for their scheduled performance at Birdland that evening.) Thad Jones wrote this tune, and you can hear the genesis of the band he shared with Mel Lewis a few years later. It's fascinating to listen to Sonny Payne play this; like the whole band, he swings like crazy. Other tracks are all great, especially those with singer Joe Williams. A wonderful album.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Stan Kenton: La Guera Baila

Track

La Guera Baila

Artist

Stan Kenton (piano)

CD

Cuban Fire! (Capitol Jazz 96260)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Lennie Niehaus (alto sax), Gene Baltazar (alto sax), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Lucky Thompson (tenor sax), Billy Root (baritone sax), Carl Fontana (trombone), Sam Noto (trumpet), Curtis Counce (bass), Mel Lewis (drums),

Marvin Holliday (baritone sax), Ed Leddy, Lee Katzman, Phil Gilbert, Al Mattaliano (trumpet); Vinnie Tano (trumpet, flugelhorn), Bob Fitzpatrick, Kent Larsen (trombone); Irving Rosenthal, Julius Watkins (french horn); Jay McAllister (tuba), Gene Roland (mellophone); Ralph Blaze (guitar); Pete Chivily (bass); Art Anton (drums), Tommy Lopez, George Acevedo (congas); George Laguna (timbales), Roger Mozian (claves), Mario Alvarez (maracas)

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Composed by Johnny Richards

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Recorded: New York, NY, May 23, 1956

Albumcoverstankenton-cubanfire

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

I love the entire Cuban Fire Suite. In fact, I love all of the music that Johnny Richards wrote for the Kenton band. This album represents one of the first and finest fusions of jazz and Afro-Cuban music. This ballad features wonderful solos. Mel Lewis’s drumming throughout is, as always, perfect. My professor from college, George Gaber, plays timpani on several tracks of the album. For power combined with lyricism, this is hard to beat.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Miles Davis: Blue in Green

Track

Blue in Green

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

Kind of Blue (Columbia/Legacy CK 64935)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums).

Composed by Miles Davis

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Recorded: New York, April 22, 1959

Albumcoverkindofblue

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: Bill Evans was the ideal addition to the Davis group for the modal concentration of Kind of Blue. Having personally studied with George Russell and therefore familiar with his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, he and Miles collaborated on some of the most celebrated jazz ever recorded. E.N.)

This album is on everyone’s desert island list. I spoke with Jimmy Cobb recently, and he said that the thing that most struck him about Kind of Blue as of late is that he’s “the only one left.” "Blue in Green" set a new standard for poetry and patience in music.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Miles Davis: The Duke

Track

The Duke

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

Miles Ahead (Sony SICP 1202)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet),

leading a 19-piece band conducted by Gil Evans, also featuring Lee Konitz (alto), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Art Taylor (drums)

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Arranged by Gil Evans. Composed by Dave Brubeck

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Recorded: New York, May 10, 1957

Albumcovermilesahead

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: Miles Ahead was the first Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration for the Columbia label, with the extraordinary Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain soon to follow. As Peter suggests, however, their initial teamwork here was a complete musical triumph. E.N.)

My favorite composition of Dave Brubeck’s, realized to perfection by Gil Evans’s writing, Miles’s playing and the band’s accompaniment. This is a perfect song, in tribute to Duke Ellington. “The Duke” seems to say it all.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Miles Davis: Stuff

Track

Stuff

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

Miles in the Sky (Columbia 9628)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Ron Carter (electric bass), Tony Williams (drums).

Composed by Miles Davis

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Recorded: Columbia Studio B, NYC, May 17, 1968

Albumcovermilesdavismilesinthesky

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: Recorded after the all-acoustic Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky was his first record that to experiment with combinations of acoustic and electric instruments. While other tracks on this record (“Paraphernalia”) feature electric guitar, “Stuff” features both electric bass and piano from Carter and Hancock. E.N.)

As much as I love In A Silent Way, this album pointed my way towards the future of music. Thank you Tony Williams and Ron Carter! How can something be so loose and yet so funky?

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Chick Corea: Matrix

Track

Matrix

Artist

Chick Corea (piano)

CD

Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note 38265)

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Musicians:

Chick Corea (piano), Miroslav Vitous (bass), Roy Haynes (drums).

Recorded: New York, March 1968

Albumcoverccoreanowhesings

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: Awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was the first, and most celebrated, collaboration between Corea, Vitous and Haynes. They can also be heard performing as a trio on Trio Music (1981) and Trio Music: Live in Europe (1984). E.N.).

This album was the original “postcard from the future” recording for me. Roy Haynes is a genius. I first heard Roy on the Eric Dolphy Out There album, which was plenty out there. Chick’s album (when it was first released, neither Roy’s nor Miroslav’s names were listed!) was “out,” too, but in a piano trio way.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


John Coltrane: Resolution

Track

Resolution

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

A Love Supreme

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 9, 1964

Albumcoverjohncoltranealovesupreme

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: A musical and spiritual journey completed on a single December day, A Love Supreme is the apex of instrumental storytelling in jazz. Note the classic tension-building use of block chords at the conclusion of Tyner’s solo that lead to Coltrane’s sublime re-arrival. E.N.)

There are no words to describe this milestone in art, except for John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Weather Report: Nubian Sundance

Track

Nubian Sundance

Group

Weather Report

CD

Mysterious Traveller (Columbia KC 32494)

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Musicians:

Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Joe Zawinul (keyboards), Alphonso Johnson (electric bass),

Ishmael Wilburn (drums), Skip Hadden (drums), Dom Um Romao (percussion)

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Composed by Joe Zawinul

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Recorded: Hollywood, California, February-May 1974

Albumcoverweatherreportmysterioustraveller

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: A transitional Weather Report record, Mysterious Traveller saw Alphonso Johnson replace Miroslav Vitous on bass and the addition of Ishmael Wilburn on drums (sharing drum duties with Skip Hadden). The brilliant consistency of the Shorter and Zawinul collaboration, however, made for an effortless, memorable record. E.N.)

This album seems to capture what the band did best: play music like nobody else. “Nubian Sundance” is jazz’s Sergeant Pepper.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Weather Report: The Juggler

Track

The Juggler

Group

Weather Report

CD

Heavy Weather (Columbia PC 34418)

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Musicians:

Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Joe Zawinul (keyboards), Jaco Pastorius (electric bass), Alex Acuna (drums), Manolo Badrena (percussion).

Composed by Joe Zawinul

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Recorded: Hollywood, California, October 1976

Albumcoverweatherreport-heavyweather

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: The seventh Weather Report record and the first featuring Jaco Pastorius as a full-time member of the group, Heavy Weather is filled with memorable material, from “Birdland” to “Havona” to “Palladium” to this Zawinul classic, “The Juggler.” E.N.)

This tune’s brilliance was recently revealed to me by Alex Acuña: the drum rhythms are from Peru ~ this is Alex’s favorite cut from Heavy Weather. I love it, too, in part because it is a marvelous yin to the rest of the album’s yang. Heavy Weather is so great, in part, because of the presence of this tune. Joe Zawinul was a great, great composer.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Keith Jarrett: Common Mama

Track

Common Mama

Artist

Keith Jarrett (piano, keyboards, percussion)

CD

Expectations (Columbia KG 31580)

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Musicians:

Keith Jarrett (piano, keyboards, percussion), Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums), Airto Moreira (percussion).

Composed by Keith Jarrett

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Recorded: New York City, September – October 1971

Albumcoverkeithjarrett-expectations

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's note: With the enormous amount of revered material Keith Jarrett has released as a solo performer and with his Peacock/DeJohnette trio, it is easy to overlook his American Quartet material from the 1970s. Redman, Haden and Motian joined Jarrett on countless standout efforts, including Birth, Fort Yawuh, Treasure Island, and Death and the Flower. On this effort, the quartet is supplemented by strings and additional brass. E.N.)

I've always loved this track since the first time I heard it in 1972. Keith writes great tunes, and the band here is stellar. Paul Motian’s focus and discipline and completely “way-out,” unconventional drumming on this is fascinating. I asked one of my students at USC to describe or explain what was so great about Paul’s drumming on this tune. My student, Louis Cole, replied: “He lets the music do all of the work.” Brilliant.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


Alan Pasqua, Dave Carpenter & Peter Erskine: Con Alma

Track

Con Alma

Artist

Alan Pasqua (piano), Dave Carpenter (bass), and Peter Erskine (drums)

CD

Standards

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Musicians:

Alan Pasqua (piano), Dave Carpenter (bass), Peter Erskine (drums).

Composed by Dizzy Gillespie

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Albumcoveralanpasquastandards

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

(Editor's Note: This recent trio release, a reunion of the group previously heard on Badlands and Live at Rocco, was released on Fuzzy Music, Peter’s independent record label. According to www.fuzzymusic.com, “many artists find themselves dipping into rich cultural pools of musical styles, beliefs and realities that do not fit into the large, corporate/record company way of thought or aesthetics. The only way to make some of this music available was to start our own company. Fuzzy Music® has been created and is offered to you in a spirit of creativity and conscience, with our promise to strive earnestly to find and produce the best quality music we know how.” E.N.)

Hey, you never know when you might run into a jazz critic on a desert island… “Here’s some fresh water, HEY have you heard my latest CD?” Alan Pasqua and Dave Carpenter are 2 of my favorite musicians to play with; Alan’s arrangement of this Dizzy Gillespie classic is ingenious, and I actually like what I played on this. The sound of the recording is really good, too. Pardon my immodesty for including it.

Reviewer: Peter Erskine (for Desert Island Dozens)


And just in case this desert island allows for more than a dozen, here are some of Peter’s “runner up” recordings that almost made the list:

1. Live in New York by Cannonball Adderley and his Sextet.

2. From the Hot Afternoon by Paul Desmond (with arrangement by Don Sebesky, plus Ron Carter and Airto Morieria in the rhythm section; a classic CTI album)

3. Art Pepper + Eleven (classic West Coast jazz, with Marty Paich arrangements and Mel Lewis’ drums)

4. Thelonious Monk at Carnegie Hall with Coltrane (or Live at the Five Spot with Roy Haynes)

5. Swingin’ New Big Band – Buddy Rich’s first big band album form the 1960s

6. Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell/Vince Mendoza collaboration (with Wayne and Herbie and orchestra)

7. The Best of Aretha Franklin (the Atlantic sessions) for the pleasure of hearing Ms. Franklin as accompanied by Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie

8. Hmmm … and the track “I Just Kissed My Baby” by The Meters, ‘cause it’s so funky.


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