An active drummer, leader, composer, record producer, inventor and family man, Peter Erskine hardly stands still.
Last year was typical for the renowned musician, formerly with Weather Report, Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton. He toured Europe twice with his trio, featuring bassist Palle Daniellson and pianist John Taylor, and later recorded the band's third ECM album, "As It Is," due out this spring.
Erskine also played dates in the States with pop stars Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan, produced albums for both his own mail order Fuzzy Music label (catalogs available by writing P.O. Box 3249, Santa Monica, CA 90408), and for Warner Bros. Records, and developed a drum accessory bag with Yamaha. And he squeezed in some time at home in Santa Monica with his wife, Mutsy, and their two children--Taichi, 13, and Maya, 8.
So far this year, he's busy promoting his first three Fuzzy releases and composing a score for a Japanese TV animation show. He'll tour England with bandleader Mike Gibbs in February, then travel to Japan to play with pianist Makoto Ozone.
Spring and summer will bring European sojourns with the cooperative band, American Diary, which also includes Joe Lovano (saxes), Mike Mainieri (vibes) and Eddie Gomez (bass), and with his trio.
Erskine takes time out from his whirlwind schedule tonight to play a trio date at Chadney's in Burbank with saxophonist Bob Sheppard and bassist Dave Carpenter. This kind of "busman's holiday," as he calls it, gives him a lot of pleasure.
"Chadney's is a good listening room and the band gets a New York kind of sound just playing tunes," he says. "Dave is one of the greatest swinging bass players I've ever worked with, and Shep sounds better every time I hear him. I think he's one of the great jazz voices on the West Coast, whom I hope will soon be discovered by audiences in New York and Europe."
The piano-less band plays mostly standards and jazz classics, like Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" or Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," with a few originals thrown in to spice up the stew. Standards are necessary, Erskine says, because they give listeners a vital reference point when evaluating an artist.
"Then you have a framework to judge a player's abilities and conception," he says. "Standards are like playing Bach in jazz."
Playing without a chording instrument--a guitar or piano-- gives Erskine a special thrill. "The group gets a transparent sound, and the drums and bass get into more of the harmonic action than usual," he says. "It's a hip setting to play in."
Carpenter and Erskine, along with pianist Alan Pasqua, are members of another trio--Arroyo--which occasionally appears in Los Angeles and other climes.
Asked why such an in-demand musician would start a record label, Erskine says, "It was an alternative means to getting out music that was ready to be made, and at the same time somehow taking control of my own destiny," he says. "After all, if I'm the producer, I don't have to second-guess anyone else."
* Peter Erskine, Dave Carpenter and Bob Sheppard play tonight, 9 to 1 a.m., at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, no minimum. (818) 843-5333.
Let It Roar: When trombonist Conrad Janis leads his gregarious, often happily explosive Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band, the music moves with tremendous spirit and drive. The band offers a mixture of traditional New Orleans-style jazz with mainstream jazz that can't help but get to you, or to the musicians.
"I sometimes feel so elated when we play that it feels like the whole band is coming out of my horn," says Janis, a youthful 67-year-old, who's been playing trombone since he was 19 and has performed with scores of greats, from Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge to James P. Johnson and Jo Jones.
These days, Valley jazz fans can hear Janis on Sundays at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks. Offering such classics as "Muskrat Ramble," "Tiger Rag" and "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," he's joined by such notables as Arnold Ross (piano), Steve Wilkerson (clarinet), Sheldon Keller (guitar) and George Segal (banjo).
"We start off playing the tunes as Dixie or traditional tunes, but when it comes to the solos, everybody's on their own, and it's pretty much straight-ahead jazz," says Janis, who many will remember from his role as Mindy's father on the ABC network show, "Mork and Mindy," which starred Robin Williams.
Janis adds that Segal, known as an actor, can really play. "George is surprising," says Janis, who also performs Tuesdays at Lunaria in West Los Angeles. "While he's not a consummate musician, he has a certain presence on the banjo, as well as a theatrical presence, that does drive the band."
* Conrad Janis Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band plays Sunday, 6:30 p.m., at the Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. $7 cover, $9.95 food or drink minimum. (818) 788-2000.