Category Archives: Books

An Ode to Peter Erskine

So I want to talk a little about Peter Erskine, who I first met in 2006. As I recall, we had exchanged some emails up to that point, and he knew about my website, which led me to asking if I could interview him about his experience with Weather Report. He told me that he would shortly be coming to the Bay Area to perform with Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe at Yoshi’s, and suggested that we meet at his hotel in Oakland’s Jack London Square. There we had a two-hour conversation before walking over to the club, where I met up with Brian Risner, who was mixing sound for Watanabe. I hung out with Brian in the engineer’s booth and listened to the show.

At the time, the only other Weather Report musician I had interviewed was Joe Zawinul. In speaking with Peter, I was interested in filling in some of the gaps in my “annotated discography” website. I really didn’t have the idea of writing a book. So it was generous of Peter to spend so much time with me. I think maybe he recognized that I was interested and sincere. It reminds me of something Joe said to me the first time I interviewed him. Surprised that I seemed to know a lot about his career, he stopped me at one point and said, “How do you know these things?” “Well, I’ve done my research.” “You are interested and interesting,” he said, which led to even more conversation. Maybe Peter recognized that I was “interested.”

Over the years, we stayed in touch. When I got serious about my book, he allowed me to interview him twice more at his own home. Beyond that, Peter is the Weather Report musician I could ask any question via email and get a response. Sometimes I would ask some pretty general questions, just seeking to get the perspective of a musician of his stature, or to get a sanity check about something or other. Peter answered every time. He also allowed me to use his photos, and he open doors to other contributors to the book, such as photographer Shigeru Uchiyama. Fast forward to today, and my book is in print and Peter was gracious enough to write the foreword. I thanked Peter for various things in the book’s acknowledgments, but I failed to explicitly thank him for writing the thoughtful foreword. Can you say faux pas? What a dummy!

Of all the former Weather Report musicians, Peter is the most like a historian of the band. For one thing, he carried a camera with him while he was in the band, and he captured a lot of photographs, some of which have made their way around the internet many times over. I believe he also maintained a journal during his Weather Report years, which informed his own book. Beyond his personal involvement in the band, Peter is extremely knowledgeable about the Weather Report’s music before his membership and after.

Peter’s book, No Beethoven: Autobiography & Chronicle of Weather Report, is a must-have for Weather Report fans. He provides a perspective on Weather Report that you won’t find in any other book, including my own. (The other books that should be on a serious Weather Report fan’s bookshelf, aside from my own and Peter’s, are Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter, Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius, and In a Silent Way: A Portrait of Joe Zawinul.)

One of the cool things about Peter’s book is that it captures Joe’s sense of humor better than any other. This is often conveyed in amusing anecdotes that Peter relates from hanging out with him, like going to a department store in Japan. I love these bits of insight into Zawinul. It’s a little more personal than you’ll find elsewhere. There are more than a few laugh-out-loud stories.

I remember that I bought Peter’s book mainly to read about his Weather Report experiences, but I was soon sucked into the whole story. The chapters alternate between a chronological biography and chapters about Weather Report. Peter has been involved in a lot of music that I like, so it was great to read about that in addition to Weather Report. Peter has an engaging, conversational writing style. As befits a world-class drummer, he has exquisite timing; he knows where to put the beats in his sentences. Along the way he imparts pearls of wisdom about being a musician and about life.

If you have yet to purchase Peter’s book, I highly recommend the Apple Books version. It’s a good example of what can be done in the digital format. It is very well presented and chock-full of photographs–over a thousand in all, hundreds of which are of Weather Report. It even includes video and audio snippets. (This may also be true of the Kindle version–I don’t know.)

Anyway, Peter, with appreciation, thanks for all that you have done.

No Beethoven Now Available in softcover and Kindle

no-beethoven

Peter Erskine’s book No Beethoven is now available as a softcover book as well as a Kindle ebook, in addition to the iTunes version that was released earlier this year. The iTunes version has some audio/video goodies and a plethora of photos that I don’t know made it into the Kindle version, so there’s still a good reason to buy it via iTunes if you have the choice.

In any event, as I said then, this book is a must read for Weather Report and Zawinul fans. Get it if you don’t already have it.

Peter Erskine’s New Book, No Beethoven

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Peter Erskine has written a gem of a new book. No Beethoven is his autobiography and “chronicle of Weather Report,” which he has published as an ebook, available from iTunes for the iPad. It’s a must-read for Weather Report and Zawinul fans, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the existing biographies of Wayne, Joe and Jaco. The book is packed with Peter’s stories and behind-the-scene anecdotes about the band, Joe, Wayne and Jaco — not to mention tons of photos.

Those stories are artfully interspersed with Peter’s narrative of his own life. As he recounts in the early chapters, he took to drumming at an early age and was something of a child prodigy, gaining admission to the Stan Kenton summer jazz camp at the age of seven despite the 14-year minimum age requirement. By the time he was 18, he was on the road with the Kenton Orchestra. Three years later, he quit to go back to school, but that was short-lived as a summer tour with Maynard Ferguson wound up turning into two years. It was with Maynard that Jaco first heard Peter, and that encounter ultimately lead to Erskine joining Weather Report in the summer of 1978.

At the time, they were finishing up the recording of Mr. Gone and getting ready for a tour of Japan. Erskine recounts in detail his first rehearsal with the band, Joe’s band rules (which really only consisted of one rule); his participation on Mr. Gone; and his “homework,” which consisted of book reading.

Peter’s relationship with Joe is a central theme throughout No Beethoven, and his insights into Zawinul’s personality are priceless. There are other books about Joe — Brian Glasser’s In A Silent Way being the obvious one — but No Beethoven offers a more personal take, one that gives us a more human portrayal of Joe than we’ve seen elsewhere. As Peter says in the book, “[Joe] was gruff and he could be rough as well as scatological and hyperbolic in the extreme. He was also a sweet and very funny man. Easily the most intense musician I’ve ever know.” All of that comes through in Erskine’s telling.

Having said all that, this is much more than a book about Weather Report. I must admit that when I first got it, I scanned through the pages looking for the Weather Report stuff. But I wound up going back and reading it from start to finish and thoroughly enjoyed it. Peter’s writing style is engaging and along the way he imparts pearls of wisdom about being a musician and about life. There’s plenty of material about Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Steps Ahead, and the many great musicians Peter has worked with over the years.

No Beethoven will eventually be available for the Kindle, Nook and Sony e-readers. German and Japanese translations are also in the works, as well as a CD-ROM version of the book to be released in Japan later this year. But for now, owners of iPads have a treat in store for them.