Give The Drummer Some: Peter Erskine

March 29, 2016
We all do it. We scour forums, devour magazines, and voraciously view videos all in the name of advancing ourselves as bass players. Sure, there's plenty of shared experience to be had, and here in the low-end business we're eager to pass along our hard-earned knowledge to our bass brethren. The downside is that we can get so trapped inside our collective shop talk and lost in the technical minutiae of putting our sound together, that we sometimes forget to seek out the perspective of musicians who play other instruments and how they perceive our contributions.
 
This month we introduce a new web-only series in which we ask various world class drummers their take on what we do and what they like. After all, who listens to bass players more intently than our rhythm section mates behind the trap kit? To kick it off, we checked in with one of the best on the planet: Peter Erskine.

What qualities do you look for in a bassist?
For upright bassists: a steady beat with good time feel, the ability to swing, dependable with intonation and note choices, someone who will not “Mickey Mouse” (latch onto or copy) what I play, yet has the good sense to watch my stick play the ride cymbal (bassists who play in drummers’ bands, like Buddy Rich or Roy Haynes, all knew or know to do this!). For electric bassists: all of the above, plus funky! I really appreciate a bass player who is not afraid to play the bass. Focus and discipline, and lots of low notes!

Name three of your favorite recordings of bass players.

Jaco Pastorius [Epic, 1976]. Funky, melodic, rhythmic, harmonic; all of the necessary elements of music, played brilliantly and impeccably. Honorable mention: Joni Mitchell's Hejira [Asylum, 1976].
 
The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York [Riverside, 1962], with Sam Jones on bass. Simply some of the most-swinging bass playing ever.
 
Mingus Revisited [Emarcy, 1960], which was also released as Pre-Bird [Mercury, 1961]. Mingus swung like crazy. I always loved the shape or envelope of his notes, more on the short side—similar to George Duvivier’s playing.

How can bass players improve their time?
It takes a lot of concentration and practice to develop a good sense of time. A lot of listening. A lot of playing. Good time is not just good rhythmic note placement, but knowing how to create good bass lines with proper leading tones, so that the harmonic motion matches the rhythmic motion.

What bassists have you been playing with lately?

During the past year, I have had the extreme good fortune to have played with Marc Johnson, Palle Danielsson, Lars Danielsson, Will Lee, Christian McBride, Damian Erskine, Darek Oles, Chuck Berghofer, Edwin Livingston, Janek Gwizdala, Benjamin Shepherd, Mike Valerio, Kevin Axt, Felix Pastorius, Robert Trujillo, and Jürgen Attig. My new album, Dr. Um [see BP Recommends, February '16] features Janek , plus I have a new trio album coming out later this year which will feature my nephew Damian.

Peter Erskine has appeared on over 600 albums and film scores and is known for his versatility and love of working in different musical contexts. He’s won two Grammy Awards, an Honorary Doctorate from the Berklee School of Music, and has played with Weather Report, Maynard Ferguson, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, The Yellowjackets, Pat Metheny, and many more. Peter has also released 50 albums under his own name or as co-leader, including his latest effort Dr. Um, and recently produced the excellent Weather Report: The Legendary Live Tapes 1978 – 1981 on Sony Legacy. Visit Peter at petererskine.com.
 
Rick Suchow is a gigging bassist and songwriter in NYC. His credits include work with Ringo Starr, Joan Osborne, Bettye LaVette, Allen Stone, Angela Bofill, Deodato, and others. He recently produced and played on the album I Sing Stevie: The Stevie Wonder Songbook by Camille, which was nominated for Best Tribute Album in the 2015 Independent Music Awards. He has been active in bass journalism for nearly a decade. ricksuchow.com
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