The Story 

Ralph Peterson has the distinction of being the only drummer to play side-by-side with legendary drummer Art Blakey. It was back in 1983 that Blakey tapped the 21-year-old to double his drum parts and provide support in his Jazz Messenger Big Band. Four decades later, Peterson has assembled a crew of Jazz Messenger alumni in tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce, also saxophonist Bobby Watson, trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Geoffrey Keezer and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet to carry forth Blakey’s torch in his centennial year. Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy band will be appearing in their Exit Zero Jazz Festival debut on the heels of their recent release, the 2-CD set Legacy: Alive Vol.6 at the Side Door on Peterson’s Onyx Productions label. 

A dynamic drummer, prolific composer and respected bandleader, Peterson came up working with trumpeter Terence Blanchard and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison in 1984 before going on to play with pianist Walter Davis and trumpeter Tom Harrell in 1985, tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis in 1986 and with the Young Lions ensemble Out of the Blue from 1985–1988. He debuted as a leader with 1988’s V on Blue Note and followed with a string of acclaimed albums for the prestigious jazz label, including 1992’s Ornettology and his 1994 Blakey tribute, Art. During the 1990s, Peterson also worked as a sideman with Jack Walrath, Craig Handy, Charles Lloyd, Kip Hanrahan, Bheki Mseleku, Courtney Pine, Steve Coleman, George Colligan, Stanley Cowell, Mark Shim and Betty Carter. He has led various incarnations of his bands Triangular and Fo’tet and also currently leads his Aggregate Prime quintet featuring tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas, guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist Davis Whitfield and bassist Curtis Lundy. 

A Full Professor of Percussion at the Berklee College of Music, his list of students constitute a Who’s Who of today’s rising star drummers, including Ari Hoenig, E.J Strickland, Tyshawn Sorey, Mark Whitfield Jr., Kush Abadey and Justin Faulkner. Having survived four cancer surgeries and beaten Stage 4 liver cancer, Peterson is indeed a warrior. And he brings that same indomitable attitude to the kit every time he hits the stage. As he told Downbeat magazine: “The music is why I’m here — to play it, to teach it, to share it. THAT’S what I’m here for.” 

The Sound 

Swing is the watchword of this seasoned sextet. Expect them to play a set of Jazz Messenger classics like Benny Golson’s “Blues March” and “Along Came Betty,” Wayne Shorter’s “Children of the Night” and “Free For All,” Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core,” Curtis Fuller’s “A La Mode” and Bobby Watson’s “Wheel Within a Wheel.” Peterson will fuel the set with his irrepressible energy and hard-edged bashing while Pierce, Watson and Lynch will provide crackling solos on the frontline. Quintessential hard bop from the source, with equal parts passion and joy. 

When & Where: Sunday, November 10, It’s A Breeze/ Hawk Haven Vineyard Stage, Cape May Convention Hall, 2:00pm

Michael Kline