by Dee Dee McNeil
Orrin Evans wrote in the Peterson liner notes about this recent recording:
“If you know Ralph, you knew whenever he titled a song or album, it directly correlated to something going on in his life. “Reclamation Project” was Ralph’s way of telling us he was reclaiming his life and career. “Art” was his tribute to his mentor, Art Blakey, who had just passed. “The Trials of Trust and Treachery” was his homage to the difficulty, but importance of long-term relationships. “Raise Up Off Me” can easily be associated with 2020, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the pandemic; the message I hear is Ralph’s fight to LIVE!”
Ralph Peterson was born May 20, 1962. His father played drums and was also the first black police chief of their hometown; Pleasantville, New Jersey. His father later became the town’s first black mayor, while his mother worked as the manager of an aviation research company. Within the family lineage, there were a slew of drummers. Ralph’s grandfather played cymbals in the church. Peterson also had four uncles who were drummers. It wasn’t surprising that young Ralph took to the drums at age three and never looked back.
“Later, I wanted to learn how to read music,” Ralph recalled his early musical journey.
“Because I was playing drums in funk bands and R&B bands of the late 60s and 70s, but I had no discipline to learn how to read music on drums. If I couldn’t get it right away, it didn’t hold my interest. Cyrille grew up in Brooklyn, a cousin of mine, and at the wake for my Uncle Bud, Cyrille sat on the steps of the back porch playing trumpet,” Ralph Peterson explained how he became infatuated with the trumpet and eventually learned to read music.
“In Brooklyn, Cyrille was known as the General of Jazz. Funny, because I call my student soldiers. My cousin was also a Black Belt in Taekwondo and I just earned my fifth degree,” Ralph Peterson recalled the impact his cousin Cyrille had on him.
“I started playing the horn in the fourth grade. By the 7th grade, I was playing trumpet in the high school band. I played trumpet in the marching band for six years, but in the jazz band I played drums.
“1982 I played my first gig in New York with Walter Davis, a great piano player and Jazz Messenger, at the Barry Harris’ Jazz Showcase. So, Wynton & Branford Marsalis were on horns; Phil Bowler on bass from Bridgeport, Connecticut. On Walter Davis’s last trio record, a record called Scorpio Rising, me, Walter and Santi Debriano; all three of us have Scorpio as an ascendant in astrological charts. So, our linkage was cosmic for us. No rehearsal. We went into the studio and Walter would just start playing. That’s the way they used to do it. They take you to the deep end of the pool and drop you in,” Peterson relived his precious formative years in jazz.
Ralph Peterson began recording as a leader in 1988, with an all-star quintet consisting of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Steve Wilson on saxophone, Geri Allen at the eighty-eight keys and Phil Bowler on bass. They released two albums called V and Volition on the Blue Note Label. Ralph also worked with Allen and Bowler as a trio, but on the recording “Triangular” Essiet Essiet replaced Bowler.
In 1989, Ralph Peterson recorded in the quartet format as “The Fo’tet” with Don Byron, Steve Wilson (later Bobby Franchesini), Melissa Slocum, who later was replaced by Belden Bullock and percussionist and vibraphonist, Bryan Carrott.