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Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

The Music of Weather Report

featuring Peter Erskine

 

The first time Peter Erskine was called to work with Weather Report, he had to decline due to other commitments. He was soon given another opportunity, however, thanks to the enthusiasm of the band’s then bass guitarist, the inspirational Jaco Pastorius, and so began a relationship that in strict historical terms lasted from 1978 to 1982 and spanned five albums but spiritually and emotionally continues to this day.

 

Pastorius had heard Erskine playing with the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra in Florida and had immediately latched on to the drummer’s power, precision and dynamism. Here was someone the bassist felt he could work with and when Weather Report’s co-founders, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, heard Erskine playing their music, they agreed. The fact that both Zawinul and Shorter had also worked with Ferguson may well have helped. Plus, in Erskine, they were getting a drummer who, having also worked with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, was well suited to steering the rhythms of a band that as his increasing use of multi-keyboard textures suggested, Zawinul for one viewed as a big band. The inclusion of Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ in Rhythm on 8.30, the first complete Weather Report album that Erskine worked on, perhaps underlines Zawinul’s thinking.

 

Erskine began playing drums at the age of four and was set on a career as a musician from then onwards. He graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy and studied percussion at Indiana University before undertaking his first professional assignment with Kenton in 1972. Three years with Kenton, which could mean fifty weeks of the year spent on the road, set him up for Ferguson’s high energy approach and after two years with the trumpeter’s orchestra, he was invited into Weather Report’s inner sanctum. His understanding with Pastorius guaranteed that the band were indeed rockin’ in rhythm. Three-quarters live, 8.30 won a Grammy and confirmed the band’s unstoppable onstage momentum.

 

Since moving on from Weather Report, Erskine has demonstrated the remarkable breadth of his range, drumming with the acoustic fusion band Steps Ahead, leading a trio in the Bill Evans tradition with English pianist John Taylor, guesting with the London Symphony and the Berlin and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, and recording with Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall and Kate Bush as well as rocking with the reformed Steely Dan.

 

His album credits and film scores number in excess of 500. His composing credits include Shakespeare plays, Hilliard Ensemble choral workshops and animated films. He has won the Jazz Drummer category of Modern Drummer magazine Readers’ Poll ten times, been awarded an honorary doctorate by Berklee College of Music and featured alongside Evelyn Glennie at the Proms. As his playing tonight and his involvement in choosing tonight’s repertoire will illustrate, however, he still regards his time in Weather Report as a special part of his life. Tonight he is, once again, Weather Report’s drummer.

 

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