I first became aware of Peter Erskine’s drumming through his work in Weather Report, alongside electric bass phenomenon Jaco Pastorius. Had Peter never played another gig this would have secured his place among the legends, but he’s incredibly prolific, having appeared on more than 600 albums and film scores so far. He’s also ridiculously versatile, having toured and/or recorded with as diverse artists as Stan Kenton, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Diana Krall, and Pat Metheny, just to name a few.
The man is an author as well, and his latest release, “No Beethoven,” is an autobiography and chronicle of his years in Weather Report. I checked out the enhanced edition for the iPad and was delighted with both the content and the execution, and recently enjoyed discussing the project with Peter.
Scott Yoho: I loved “No Beethoven.” It’s my first eBook and your content seemed a perfect fit – not only were there many more photos than you’d see in a printed book, but I totally dug the audio and video, too. How did this project come about? Did you initially envision electronic publication?
Peter Erskine: The book came about as a result of many years’ worth of collecting, organizing and thinking on the stories and accompanying memorabilia that chronicle a remarkable time in music, one that I was fortunate enough to witness and experience firsthand. At first I envisioned the book being, well, a book.
But, with the introduction of the iPad (I was already a long-time Kindle reader), it was obvious that an enhanced eBook presentation would be the very best way to tell the story. Photos are luminous on the iPad (or Kindle Fire), with the added bonus of audio and video content. And thanks to the empowerment of software (in this case, iBooks Author), I was able to create a book and story-telling timeline that makes the book both incredibly informative, entertaining (I hope) and extremely personal.
SY: What’s the most surprising reaction to its publication you’ve experienced so far?
PE: No big surprises, save for how many people seem to be enjoying the stories and the photos, etc. I have to admit: the book itself is generous with the memories and memorabilia (especially the iPad Enhanced Edition), and I’m simply relieved and happy that the balance between my own story and the story of the musical times and personalities of the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond seems to be “right.” Much of what I do in music — playing the drums, primarily — has to do with creating the right balance (dynamics, texture, note activity, ideas, counterpoint, etc.), so it seems natural that the book aimed for that quality, too.
SY: I can’t immediately think of a musician’s autobiography that devotes chapters to musical instrument sponsors. Where does your desire to go the extra mile to promote your sponsors come from?
PE: Purely as an expression of gratitude and thanks for their support and craftsmanship. “Ask not what your music company can do for you…ask what you can do for your musical instrument company” seems to work better than simply wanting … it’s worked for me.
SY: At the same time it’s clear you remain open to seeking new sponsorships when better instruments (or corporate relations) present themselves (as you did from Slingerland to Yamaha to DW). Can you talk about that?
PE: Music company/artist relationships are just like any other relationship: it involves people more than anything else. And, sometimes, when people change within a company, the nature of the relationship an artist has with that company may change as well. Or, more simply, sometimes a better product comes along —a product that an artist deems essential for him or her to do their best work — and a change is in order. The book goes into the sausage-making details of how and why I left one drum company for another.
Musicians are not so different from professional athletes (only, pro athletes enjoy a lot more visibility and compensation, etc., It’s a much bigger market, I guess) … sponsorship is part of the business.
SY: Can you talk about your use of notation software?
PE: Music notation software is essential to today’s musician! Merely printing out parts from a sequence program is disrespectful to the musician who is about to play your music. A composer or bandleader, vocalist, et al, will get the best performance from musicians who have good-looking music to read from and reference.
SY: What was your first program?
PE: I started using music notation software as soon as it became available. Passport Music Software’s ENCORE was a terrific program. Of course, FINALE came along and became THE standard engraving tool for musicians, composers, schools and companies. I have also used Sibelius, a great program with an easier learning-curve than Finale.
But with Sibelius’ recent acquisition activities and uncertainties, I’ve returned my attention and focus to Finale for the future. (My publishers, Alfred Music, engrave everything with Finale, by the way.) Finale has always been the gold standard for music engraving: the program and environment allows more choices and possibilities than any other software, in my experience. That said, it’s back to school time for me!
I still like to use pencil and paper to sketch ideas out … I use sequencers less and less these days. I’m also learning and re-learning the advice I got from the composing and arranging genius, Vince Mendoza, who told me that “the eraser is the most important part of the pencil.”
The challenges and possibilities presented by program environments like Finale are tremendously invigorating and useful. The best way to learn is to pay attention and “just do it.” Sorry for all of the sports analogies today, must have something to do with the baseball post-season playoffs. I’ll just say this: I feel remarkably lucky to be alive today – despite all of the bad news that seems to come at us whenever we turn on our computer or iPad — the future is now, and the possibilities are endless.
It’s the eraser part of the pencil we need to remember… so, with that, I’ll shut up. Thanks for mentioning my book. Oh yeah, and my apps for iOS: ERSKN PlayAlongs. Couldn’t have done them without music notation software!
I’d like to thank Peter for sharing his thoughts with us. Have a favorite Weather Report memory? If so, please share it by clicking on “Comments” below.