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Ralph Peterson

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A dynamic and hard-swinging drummer, Ralph Peterson built upon his love of legendary players like Art Blakey and Elvin Jones to become a highly regarded jazz improviser, composer, and bandleader. He initially garnered attention in the late '80s playing with David Murray and co-leading Blue Note's Out of the Blue group. Working alongside Roy Hargrove, Charles Lloyd, and Uri Caine, he earned critical acclaim, releasing albums like 1992's Ornettology with his Fo'tet group, 2016's Triangular III with his trio, and 2018's I Remember Bu with his Gen-Next Big Band. Born in 1962, Peterson grew up in Pleasantville, New Jersey where he started on drums at the age of three. While his grandfather and several of his uncles all played drums, it was the trumpet that really piqued his attention. Inspired by his father's record collection, he became interested in jazz, especially trumpet players like Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. Consequently, he began splitting his time between playing drums and playing the trumpet, a balancing act he continued throughout high school and afterward, eventually enrolling in the Jazz Studies Department at Rutgers University in Newark. Taught by noted players Paul Jeffries and Kenny Barron, he also studied with drummer Michael Carvin, who encouraged him to focus on drums. It was while at Rutgers that he befriended trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who introduced him to drummer Art Blakey. Following a night sitting in with Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Peterson accepted an invitation to play alongside him in a high-profile two-drummer big-band concert at the Boston Globe Festival. This formative experience solidified Peterson's desire to pursue drumming. Following his graduation in 1984, he hit the road, touring with artists like Jon Faddis, David Murray, Stanley Turrentine, and Dianne Reeves. He recorded early on with Tom Harrell and co-led a Blue Note house band, appearing on their 1985 album Out of the Blue. As a leader, Peterson debuted in 1988 with V on Blue Note, a quintet album featuring trumpeter Blanchard, pianist Geri Allen, saxophonist Steve Wilson, and bassist Phil Bowler. Also that year, he debuted his trio with Allen and bassist Essiet Essiet on Triangular. He followed with two more albums for Blue Note, beginning with 1990's Volition, which again featured his group with Blanchard. The same year, he released Ralph Peterson Presents the Fo'tet, which showcased his group with clarinetist Don Byron, saxophonist David Murray, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, trombonist Frank Lacy, and bassist Melissa Slocum. In 1992, Peterson relocated to Philadelphia to teach at the University of the Arts. He continued to tour and conduct clinics. In 1994, he released Art, a quintet celebration of Art Blakey with cornetist Graham Haynes, saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Michele Rosewoman, and bassist Phil Bowler. He also released The Reclamation Project that year, an album of original compositions borne from a Composer's Fellowship given him by the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. He then returned to his Fo'tet ensemble for 1995's Fo'tet Plays Monk and continued his side work playing with Bobby Watson and Michael Brecker. There were also sessions with Uri Caine, Craig Handy, Orrin Evans, Duane Eubanks, and others. In 2000, he released Back to Stay with Fo'tet on Sirocco Jazz Ltd, and the trio album Triangular II, with pianist David Kikoski and bassist Gerald Cannon. Between 2001 and 2004, he recorded four albums for the Criss Cross label, including The Art of War, Subliminal Seduction, and Test of Time, all of which showcased his hard bop style. In 2010, he debuted his Unity Project with Outer Reaches. He returned two years later with The Duality Perspective, which featured recordings with Fo'tet, as well as his sextet with trumpeter Sean Jones. A third trio album, Triangular III, appeared in 2016, this time with brothers pianist Zaccai Curtis and bassist Luques Curtis. He also contributed to vibrant projects by Charles Lloyd, Delfeayo Marsalis, and Wayne Escoffery. With 2018's I Remember Bu, he introduced his Gen-Next Big Band, a group inspired by his experience playing in a big band alongside Art Blakey while at Rutgers. Peterson died on March 1, 2021 at age 58 of complications from cancer.
© Matt Collar /TiVo
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