My Interview With Peter Erskine


New member
Hey all,

A few years ago (in 2004, before Peter switched from Yamaha drums to Drum Workshop, I had the honor of having him as a member of a group that I run on Yahoo for Yamaha drummers. I thought that I'd post a copy of the interview here, there's some pretty cool stuff in it, and Peter is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Enjoy.

Peter Erskine, one of jazz' leading drummers, has accumulated credit after credit over the past 30 years, playing with legendary artists like Stan Kenton, Weather Report, Maynard Ferguson, Jaco Pastorius, and others too numerous to mention. He's constantly at the forefront of jazz music, and has been one of Yamaha's longest-running drum endorsers. Here are some of Peter's thoughts on Yamaha drums, and drumming.

Kevin: Mr. Erskine, you've been one of Yamaha's longest-running
endorsers, since 1980. How did you first become interested in Yamaha
products, and was there any single thing that has kept you with
Yamaha for so long?

Peter Erskine: I first became acquainted with Yamaha (and their
drums) back in 1974 when that company supplied some instruments to
players in the Stan Kenton Orchestra for use and evaluation;
trumpets, trombones, saxophones and a bass amp … I was (happily)
playing Slingerland Drums at the time, and the USA rep for Yamaha
even told me, when I asked him about Yamaha's drums: "Wait a
few years …" Well, a few years later, and I was in Japan on my
very first tour with the group Weather Report. Even though I had a brand
new Slingerland kit that was built for me to use on that tour, all of
us in the band accepted an invitation from Yamaha to visit their
factory and R&D center in Hamamatsu, Japan. Jaco Pastorius, Joe
Zawinul and I traveled by Bullet Train to Hamamatsu from Osaka, and
were greeted by Takashi Hagiwara, Yamaha's legendary drum guru,
designer and artist rep … someone at Yamaha had spent a great
deal of time preparing a fretless bass for Jaco to play (at the time, Yamaha
did not have a fretless bass in their catalogue), Joe played on their
newest synthesizer, and I jammed on their drums … you can see a
couple of photos from this day at my website, on
the "What's New" page … what impressed me most from
that first encounter with the instrument was the design and execution of the
hardware, particularly the cymbal stand that, with a mild and simple
twist of the fingers, could convert from a straight stand to a boom,
and without the use of a clunky 10-pound weight that might fall onto
your foot! (American-made hardware was becoming more and more poorly
designed and made by the late 1970s and early 1980s). Still, I stayed
true to Slingerland … however, in 1980 I had the opportunity to
truly play a Yamaha kit in rehearsals and concert on a festival tour
that was supplying Yamaha Drums for the artists … and I was
knocked out by the sound, look and feel of the drums in every respect. AND:
Yamaha Drums were ROUND and stayed in round … something my
Slingerland drums turned out not to be doing! Somehow, it seems like it became my
destiny to play Yamaha Drums. Through the years, Yamaha has always
listened to the drummers who play the instrument. From this synergy
has come a line of drums and hardware that meets the highest demands
and needs of drummers, experienced or otherwise! Yamaha's
continued attention and commitment to quality and detail is apparent
in every drum that they manufacture. Oh, and by the time I toured the
factory in Osaka where the drums are actually made, and witnessed
first hand the amount of work that is done by hand, and the care and
love that goes into each drum … well, I was and remain hooked.

Kevin: Your website, lists several of your
signature products, including your Peter Erskine Signature Snare
Drum. What was it like to have a hand in designing your own drum?
What kind of feedback do your receive on the drum itself? And what's
your reaction when you find that other artists are using it? (For
example, David Garibaldi uses your snare as a secondary drum in his
kit, just to the left of his hi-hat.)

P.E.: As I mentioned above, Yamaha listens to its artists …
while the idea for a 4x10" drum is not original, their execution
oft he idea, coupled with my suggestions for the wood, finish, as well
as marketing identity (opting for the names "Soprano" and
"Sopranino" versus "piccolo"), etc., made the drum a stand-out item. It
sounds great in most any context. What you might not know is that the very
first "signature" drum that Yamaha offered was a 4x14"
birch snare drum with my name on it … since this was such a new idea at the
time, only a limited number of drums were offered … it has since
become a standard item. Again, the 4x14" configuration for a
snare drum is not an original idea: Gretsch was marketing its own "Max
Roach" model (4x14") many years earlier. I'm delighted
that drummers such as David Garibaldi and Anton Fig use that drum. I enjoy
using "their" snare drums as well!

Kevin: What was the inspiration for your signature Free-Standing
Stick Bag?

P.E.: While touring with Steely Dan, I noticed that the sound of the
floor tom changed quite a bit from its being left-alone/unencumbered
versus when I hung my stickbag on it. It occurred to me that a free-
standing bag would be a good idea … particularly after leaving my
stickbag on the floor during "live" gigs or recording
sessions and having it fall over, etc. Fred Beato of Beato Bags
helped my wife and I to execute the first prototypes, and his
excellent company manufactured the bag for Yamaha for the first few
years it was on the market. Yamaha finally decided to have the bag
made overseas, and I took advantage of this occasion to re-design the
bag so as to offer a sort of table … a platform where a drummer
could place his or her brushes, mallets, metronome, etc., during a show or
recording session. I find it a tremendously handy accessory! My wife
Mutsy and I fashioned the first prototype of that bag in our kitchen.

Kevin: Over the years, Yamaha has evolved as a drum company in many
significant ways. Do you have a favorite "kit of the past" that
you've played?

P.E.: The kit that Yamaha built for the tour I did with Steely Dan
in 1993 — a Maple Custom Vintage kit, w/ 14x22" bass drum, 10
+ 12" rack toms, 14" + 16" floor toms (all toms
"standard" or "jazz" depths) — and used later on tour with Boz
Scaggs as well as Joni Mitchell — has become my number #1 studio kit for most types
of sessions (unless it's bebop). It is truly an excellent drumset,
one that seems to keep getting better with age!

Kevin: This summer, you've played among others with Diana Krall. Did
your selection of Yamaha drums differ for this tour from your regular
kit, perhaps in wood selection, sizes, or depths?

P.E.: Surprise … went back to a 4-piece kit: 14x18" bass
drum (with Evans EMAD batter head), 8X12" rack tom and 14x14"
floor tom, with a 4x14" snare drum … this is a maple kit, Nouveau
series, in a red sparkle finish (the color of my very first drumset when I
was a kid!) I am also a huge fan of Yamaha's Oak Custom drums
(matte finish) … GREAT DRUMS!

Kevin: This year, Yamaha lost perhaps the most significant member of
its family, the Jazz Machine Elvin Jones. Could you speak a bit about
Mr. Jones and his influence on you, both personally and in drumming?

P.E.: Elvin will always be the biggest inspiration for drummers of
my generation and those that are following us. He changed the
language of drumming so significantly that he created new levels of
possibility in terms of personal expression on the instrument as well
as rhythmic variety and dynamism. Elvin loved his Yamaha Drums, and
Elvin was loved by everyone who knew him. It's hard to imagine a
stronger drumming force. For anyone reading this: if you are not yet
familiar with the drumming of Elvin Jones, find yourself a John
Coltrane Quartet recording or Elvin Jones/leader album to listen to
… it will change your life for the better, I promise you!

Kevin: In your opinion, what has been the most significant
development that Yamaha has made in the past decade?

P.E.: Several come to mind: the pioneering use of environmentally-
friendly materials in the manufacturing of their drums; their
hardware design, particularly the new bass drum pedals and mesh
seats, plus their continuing improvements of their cymbal stands.
Some great new finishes, too … but don't ask me about that,
I'm sort of old-fashioned when it comes to drum finishes …
red sparkle!

Kevin: What would you personally like to see from Yamaha in the

P.E.: I would LOVE for Yamaha to introduce their own version of a
flush-base cymbal stand (in fact, I have bugging them for years to do
this …); would also like to see Yamaha experiment with a
solid-wood shell for some of their snare drums.

Kevin: More and more of the jazz world's "young guns" seem to be
moving to Yamaha drums, as well as several rock drummers. Are there
any young cats on the Yamaha artist roster that you are really
excited about?

P.E.: Well, I'm a big fan of a lot of the players who are in my
age group: drummers like Steve Gadd, David Garibaldi, Alex Acuña,
J.R. Robinson, Dave Weckl, Ignacio Berroa, Terri Lyne Carrington, John
Riley, Jimmy Chamberlain, Russ Kunkel … and some of the younger
players like Keith Carlock, Willie Jones III and Greg Hutchinson
… but the YOUNGEST player (in terms of spirit and heart) and most
certainly the BADDEST would have to be ROY HAYNES !!!

Kevin: You've accumulated one of the most amazing discograpies in
history. With a wide range of artists, one would think that you'd
need all kinds of different drums to cover the varying artist needs.
Have you found that your Yamahas are very adaptable to any genre, or
have you needed to switch lines of drums for the situation?

P.E.: I always feel 100% confident when I play my Yamaha Drums …
I might choose one size configuration over another, depending on the
style or requirements of the music (for example, 1n 18" bass drum
tuned up `high' is a different-sounding creature from a
22" bass drum that has some stuffing in it and is tuned deep and low …).
Artists and engineers and producers all seem to like the sound of my drums
… Yamaha deserves most of the credit! But, it is also important
to have a sound in your head of what you want from your instrument, and
to work on developing your touch. The biggest lesson That I have
learned over the years, recently, has had to do with drawing the
sound out of the drums (and cymbals) as opposed to beating the sound
into the drum...

Kevin: Finally, what's next for Peter Erskine and Yamaha?

P.E.: Flush-based cymbal stands??? Stay tuned …! Meanwhile, I
look forward to another 22 years of drumming happiness with Yamaha.
They are an excellent company, both in Japan and in America (I should
also give credit to the dedicated Yamaha reps world-wide). Excellent
people, excellent resources in design and manufacturing, with a
philosophy that centers around making a musical instrument that is
worthy of a life-long relationship with the musician who plays it:
this is why I play Yamaha Drums. The quality is there because the
love is there; the Yamaha drum community is an important part of that
magic. Thanks for the opportunity to share my joy and enthusiasm for
these great instruments with you. By the way: if you want to hear
some of the various Yamaha Drums: On my recording "Lava Jazz"
with the Lounge Art Ensemble, I play the Steve Jordan-designed
"Club Jordan Cocktail Kit" for the entire recording …! (with my
4x12" signature "Soprano" snare drum) [available from
Fuzzy Music at my website] "Badlands" features the Manu Katche
"HipGig, Jr." kit, along with Yamaha's Bamboo snare drum …
you'll be amazed at how good this little drumset sounds … AND, we recorded the album
right here in my backyard studio! [available from Fuzzy Music at my
website] The latest Diana Krall album "The Girl In The Other
Room" features my Yamaha Oak Custom kit. You can hear the Maple Custom
Vintage kit on the Steely Dan album "Live in America" as well
as on some recent soundtracks, including the last couple of Austin Powers
films! My maple jazz kit is heard to great effect on my trio's
2-CD recording "Live at Rocco" [available from Fuzzy Music at my
website] … And I look forward to seeing some of you during my
travels, I hope!

Thank you all for taking the time to read this, and most of all,
thank you for listening! And most, MOST of all: good luck to
everyone, and HAVE FUN playing your Yamaha Drums … we are all
truly blessed to be able to do something like this: making music on
the best drums in the world!

That concludes my "Virtual Sit Down" with Peter Erskine. I'd like to
thank Peter again for being so generous with his time. It's truly an
honor to have him as a member of our group.


New member
Thanks for the contribution. He plays with great taste and has such a wonderful feel. It's too bad he's often overlooked because he's not a chops player.


New member
WTF hasn't Yamaha, or anyone other than DW or Gibralter who currently do, put these out by now, especially with Yamaha's roster of jazzers. It's a no brainer.

screamkevin":1xtepe5k said:
....P.E.: Flush-based cymbal stands??? Stay tuned …! Meanwhile, I
look forward to another 22 years of drumming happiness with Yamaha....[/i]


New member
christopherabruce":eza8otdc said:
Thanks for the contribution. He plays with great taste and has such a wonderful feel. It's too bad he's often overlooked because he's not a chops player.
For one (out of many Erskine "chops" recordings) check out John Abercrombie's November recording.


New member
Haven't heard that one. I'll add it to the list.

GB1Kenobi":21gke7pw said:
christopherabruce":21gke7pw said:
Thanks for the contribution. He plays with great taste and has such a wonderful feel. It's too bad he's often overlooked because he's not a chops player.
For one (out of many Erskine "chops" recordings) check out John Abercrombie's November recording.