Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Erskine, Peter (Clark)

Drummer Peter Erskine is known for his versatility. In work which spans from Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson to Steely Dan and Weather Report, Erskine demonstrates his swinging ride cymbal chops, immaculate timekeeping and pocket grooves.

Peter Clark Erskine was born on June 5th, 1954. He began playing the drums at the age of four, and participated in Stan Kenton’s band camps from this tender age. He first sat in with Kenton when he was only seven. Erskine continued to study the drums after high school, and briefly attended Indiana University, where he met his friend and fellow trio leader pianist Alan Pasqua. While at Indiana, Erskine studied drums with George Gaber.

In 1972, Erskine accepted the drum chair with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He held this position until 1975 when he left Kenton to play with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s band. Erskine appeared on the Ferguson albums New Vintage in 1977 and Carnival in 1978.

Following his stint with Ferguson, Erskine joined Weather Report, the era's leading jazz-fusion group. Erskine was hired at the suggestion of bass player Jaco Pastorius. With Pastorius and Erskine, Weather Report enjoyed their largest period of success as a group. Erskine appeared on their 1978 release Mr. Gone, along with drummers Tony Williams and Steve Gadd. Erskine can be heard on the songs “The Pursuit of the Woman in the Feather Hat,” “Young and Fine,” and “Pinocchio.”

In 1979, Erskine appeared on the Joni Mitchell album Mingus. He can be heard Mitchell’s rendition of Mingus's homage to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." That same year, Weather Report released their live album 8:30 which featured among other songs their biggest hit, Joe Zawinul's "Birdland" and the song "Black Market."

Although considered a live album, portions of 8:30 were recorded in the studio. Erskine also appeared on tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s album Relaxin’ at Camarillo along with pianist Chick Corea in 1979, and along with Pastorius made a guest appearance on the Earth, Wind, and Fire album Raise!

In 1980, Erskine recorded with Pastorius for his Word of Mouth Big Band album Word of Mouth, which also featured Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Still drumming for Weather Report, Erskine appeared on all of the songs for their 1980 release Night Passage. Erskine appeared on his last Weather Report album in 1982, the band's second self-titled release, which included the song "Volcano for Hire." This track displays Erskine’s mastery of playing fast and intricate rhythms.

Erskine left Weather Report to join the band Steps Ahead, which featured Michael Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, and bassist Eddie Gomez. Erskine is heard on their debut album from Elektra Records, Steps Ahead, released in 1983. Songs of note include "Pools." Also in 1983, Erskine appeared on the Bob Mintzer Big Band recording Papa Lips.

Through the end of the 1980s, Erskine continued to record prolifically with a wide variety of artists. He appeared on guitarist John Abercrombie’s 1985 album Current Events along with Marc Johnson. He also recorded with tenor saxophonist Christof Lauer, and is featured on the song Sweet and Sentimental." In 1985, Erskine appeared on a re-recording of "Pools" on Don Grolnick’s album Hearts and Numbers. Again in 1985, Erskine appeared on guitarist Stanley Jordan’s breakthrough album Magic Touch and provided a solid rhythmic foundation for the virtuoso guitarist.

In 1986, Erskine helped produce Weather Report’s last album, This Is This, for which he received a production credit. In the late 1980s, Erskine appeared on albums by Gary Peacock, bassist John Patitucci, Bob Berg, vibraphonist Gary Burton, keyboardist Lyle Mays, and Michael Brecker.

In 1990, Erskine released a solo album, Big Theatre, which featured bassist Will Lee. In 1992, Erskine reconnected with John Abercrombie for the guitarist’s 1992 ECM album November. Erskine can be heard on the songs Come Rain or Come Shine" and “J.S." That same year, Erskine appeared on Steely Dan guitarist’s Jon Herrington’s album Pulse and Cadence, where he can be heard on the song "Kernel of Truth," This album was first released in the United States in 2008.

In 1994, Erskine lent his drumming talents to harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmans for his 1994 album East Coast West Coast. Erskine is featured along with bassist Charlie Haden and violinist Jerry Goodman on the Dave Brubeck classic "Take Five" and the Bill Evans song "Waltz for Debby." He also appeared on Gary Burton’s 1996 album Departure, which featured John Scofield on guitar and John Patitucci on bass. The group is heard on the song "September Song."

Erskine recorded with pop singer Vanessa Williams in 1994 and with guitarist Carlos Santana in 1995 for his album Dance of the Rainbow Serpent. Between 1993 and 1994, Erskine traveled the world with jazz-rock band Steely Dan. The tour was recorded and released in 1995 as the live album Alive in America. He also appeared on albums by guitarist Al Di Meola in 1998 and began to further immerse himself in scoring for soundtracks. He contributed original music to the 1998 movie Wild Things and the 1999 film The Spy Who Shagged Me.

In the new millennium, Erskine has been leading a trio with bassist Dave Carpenter and pianist Alan Pasqua. They have released several albums including 2007’s Standards which was released on Erskine’s own Fuzzy Music label. It featured such standards as Dizzy Gillespie’s "Con Alma." In 2000, Erskine released the album E_L_B, which featured the song "Meanwhile," and toured with singer Diana Krall in 2004.

Aside from his numerous recordings as a session drummer and as a leader, Erskine continues to maintain a dedicated teaching schedule. He teaches at the University of Southern California as well as privately. One of the most active and prolific drummers of the last forty years, Erskine has consistently demonstrated his versatility and has made substantial contributions to fusion, big band swing, and funk . He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and has two children.

Select Discography

As Peter Erskine

Peter Erskine (Contemporary, 1982)

Sweet Soul (BMG, 1990)

You Never Know (ECM, 1992)

Time Being (ECM, 1993)

Juni (ECM, 1999)

With Weather Report

Mr. Gone (Columbia, 1978)

8:30 (Columbia, 1979)

Night Passage (Columbia, 1980)

Weather Report (Columbia, 1982)

With Steps Ahead

Steps Ahead (Elektra, 1983)

With Gary Burton

Departure (Concord, 1996)

With Steely Dan

Alive in America (Giant, 1995)

Contributor: Jared Pauley