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Peter Erskine Masterclass
Selasa, 15-05-2012 | 11:26 WIB

On 19th April, I had a great privilege to finally meet my drumming idol that I could only dreamt of meeting, Peter Erksine while he visits the university I am studying in, Jacobs School of Music Indiana University. Peter Erksine’s long musical journey starts when he was 18-19 years old in Stan Kenton Band while he is studying here in Jacobs School of Music about 40 years ago, and now known as a true drumming legend of our time.

 

Peter Erskine starts his masterclass with a story of his young age studying in Jacobs School of Music. Flashbacking to his first lesson with Professor George Gaber where he met in other jazz summer camp, Peter says “Prof. Gaber sense that he is always nervous about ‘PLAYING RIGHT’.” So Prof. Gaber would place a practice pad and put a sheet of music on the music stand, takes a puff on his cigar that he always has with him, sits down, and says “play any of it correctly, I’m gonna whack your hand really hard with this timpani mallet.” Peter can only glance at their parents who were with him at that time, but well, he didn’t hear it wrong. So he plays it upside down, backwards, every incorrect note that he could possibly play, until Prof. Gaber asked him to look outside of the window and ask Peter to tell him what he sees. So Peter walk to the window and he asked, “Cloud still up in the sky?”

Peter: “Yeah”

Prof. Gaber: “Sun shining, the earth appears to still be spinning?”

Peter: “Yeah”

Prof. Gaber: “Ok. You played that worst than anyone could possibly play that piece of music, and what happen? NOTHING!”

That is Peter’s beginning process of trying to understand that it’s okay to be human while playing [music] and this will open up many windows of towards taking chances. And these chances are taken to the realm of musical choices. Some of the choices are formed by your experience, your musical vocabularies, and knowledge on style of music. And some are formed by sense of adventure, and if you can get the right balance of these things, then Peter thinks that you are the musician that other people want to listen to.

 

Tone

Peter then demonstrates what we all love to hear, BASICS. He told all participants to stand up and place their hands in right angle, letting our hands dangling. That is, according to Peter, how we naturally will hold drumsticks. Additionally, he stress out the point that drumsticks should be held LOOSELY by giving an irony of how hard he holds the stick. By keeping drumsticks loose and pretty much rest on our hands, it allows the stick to vibrate more freely, and that’s part of how we get the sound, TONE.

He then pulls us back to the history at the time when he returned to Indiana University to finish his degree after touring with Stan Kenton for over 3 years. Prof. Gaber assigned him to play in the Philharmonic playing the temple blocks and Kenny Aronoff playing timpani. After a performance, the conductor greeted all players but Peter and said “Peter, come to my office the first thing tomorrow morning.” The next day, Peter came to his office and asked “what’s up?”. The conductor asked right away “why are you hitting those things so hard?”.

Peter realizes since then that his bad habits from touring of pounding instruments rather than focusing on the tone hurts his musical performance, and especially the group’s performance. The next semester, while everyone tries to learn from as many books as possible, all he does was finding the right TONE. Every lesson, he was told to play different instrument and have ONE shot in making the best sound. After a lot of years, he realizes what is actually the ‘perfect tone’ (for him).

 

While playing ride cymbals, or probably in any percussion instruments, what you put into the instrument will have a great impact to the sound it creates. Peter demonstrates how he perceives playing the ride cymbal like pointing your finger on your dog and say “bad dog (while shaking your hands). Modifying this motion to the drums, the same motion applies, and what to keep in mind is to keep all rebound the same. Groove is defined as a consistent series of notes, and so if the distance of the stick changes, then the stick has to leave the ‘train station’ a bit early to get there in perfect time, or travels faster. So what happens when the stick travels faster? It gives louder tone. If you want an accent, that’s cool, but if you don’t want, then that’s not cool. To get consistent sound, you need consistent motion. (trust me as in trust Albert Suriadi, this is TOUGH and time consuming).

While playing with Steely Dan in 1993, Peter had to play one of his least favorite song “Reeling in the Years”, which he always thought as a crappy doodles.  He hated the melody, hated the arrangement, and simply thinks it is dumb, but the show must go on! During the show, he was wearing (super) isolated ear monitors, and say “you know, I don’t like the song, so screw it!”. He turned the monitor off so he don’t have to listen to the damn song, but of course, he still needs to play the song, so he need a point of reference to play the tune. He sings on his head a Count Basie tune while the guys in front of him are singing “and we’re reeling in the year~”. All the sudden, his backbeat swings,and it worked! It’s all because he has a reference point. He’s not playing something written, something he had practice, but he’s playing MUSIC! This opens up a broad possibility for him to, again, explore TONE where he could appreciate the spaces between notes. By just playing a whole note on the ride cymbal and you could still swing because the sound is there, the vibrancy is there, and the INTENT is there. When you play music outside of the box and if there’s no intent, no matter what you play, it’s just going to feel like a drag. But when you’re playing with intention, or being specific, many musical windows will, again, open up and you’ll realize that you don’t have to play the same thing all the time!

Putting his concept into practical, he introduces something he calls as the ‘comping game’ where he basically sets a rule of playing the drums while playing over a tune (sung on his head). In this example, Peter uses the tune “Billy’s Bounce” of Charlie Parker. In the first example, Peter sets the rule of playing the ride pattern (swing) with Hihat on 2 and 4 (cannot change). He’s allowed to play the snare drum anywhere he wants, but he cannot play the snare again until he plays the bass drum. But he cannot play the bass drum again until he played the snare drum. BE MUSICAL AS POSSIBLE with this game, and play around with the patterns.  Later he uses different example of using different rules such as 2 snares and one bass drums respectively, etc.

Intent

Peter Erksine continues with a Jazz Big-Band song he recorded with Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy creator). What’s with the catchy tune? Just to show that all Peter does was playing “Quarter Notes”.

Why quarter notes? In the previous takes, Peter was doing all sorts of fancy things, but there is just something missing. He then asked for another shot, and all he did was playing Quarter Notes. Why? Having the space allows more musical conversation and most importantly, it invites the audience to snap their finger (enjoying the music). Why play something complicated when all it needs for the music is something simple for the audience to move on?

After Peter plays a 10-minutes drum improvisation, he stresses out how he can create musical improvisation using vocabs, motives, theme, variations, etc. Peter then breaks down his solo improvisation and applies it to the comping game. In his example, he uses Baiao pattern on bass and hihat and he has various choices of playing on the beat, off the beat, double those up, triplets (on and off beat), move around the drums, rests, and most importantly DYNAMICS! Peter claims that playing LOUD all the way, or playing softly all the time is BORING!!! By doing this, he is trying to make musical conversation with the rest of the band, and in this case, the bass drum and hihat (playing Baiao pattern/independence pattern), because in real musical world, you’ll need to interact well with other musician on your band stand!

Peter Erskine ends his very informative and mind boggling Masterclass with a performance of “Body and Soul” performed with Alan Pasqua on Piano (Tony Williams, Santana, etc) and Nick Tucker on Bass (student of Indiana University). The week is not done for him and all Jacobs School of Music students to celebrate Jazz Festival Week that would summit on Saturday… with a grand performance featuring IU Jazz Students and IU All-Stars Alumni including Peter Erskine, Robert Hurst, Randy Brecker and Alan Pasqua.

 

 

 
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