Being part of this weekend's "Music of Stan Kenton" big band concert is like coming home for drummer Peter Erskine -- musically and geographically.
Erskine, 58, was part of Kenton's band from 1972-75, and during that time, he recalls, "the Midwest was definitely our stomping ground,s particularly around Detroit and Livonia, Clarenceville. I think we spent more time, as we criss-crossed the nation, in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana than most other places. So it will definitely be like coming back home again."
The New Jersey native and graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy -- who went on to play with Maynard Ferguson, Weather Report, Steps Ahead and the Bob Mintzer Big Band and is now on the faculty at the University of Southern California -- has nothing but warm feelings for Kenton's music, which he describes as "noble. It's fun music to hear. It's big. It's brassy. It's exciting -- and for the drummer, it's a very fun kind of a hot seat." And he has equally fond feelings about his reputation-making time in the band, for which he dropped out of his studies at Indian University.
"Here was this long-haired, hippie-looking kid that played drums, and because Stan was so involved with jazz education in the schools he was willing to take a chance on me," Erskine recalls. "This was at the time when jazz fusion was a really big deal, And he felt like here would be a key player in the band that young musicians and fans could relate to.
"Of course, after a few weeks I wanted to be more like the older guys, so I cut my hair and Stan was upset with me. I was trying to be more grown-up and look like some of the squares in the band, and he wanted me to stay the hippie. So I grew my hair back, and it was a very fun three years."
Erskine will be bringing with him a rare 27-inch ride cymbal that Kenton allowed him to keep when he left the band. As performing at the show will be Kenton band alumni Bob Lymparis of Farmington Hills and Jerry McKenzie of West Bloomfield, along with Detroit Jazz Festival artistic director Chris Collins, Johnny Trudell and Kenton first trumpeter John Harner.
"Music of Stan Kenton with the Detroit Master of Music Big Band featuring Peter Erskine takes place at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at the Music Hall Center, 350 Madison St., Detroit. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Call 313-887-8501 or visit www.musichall.org.
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