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In Memoriam: Ralph Peterson, Jr.

Mar 4, 2021, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

Jazz drummer and bandleader Ralph Peterson Jr. died March 1, 2021, of complications from cancer. He was 58.

Peterson was born on May 20, 1962 in New Jersey. His father and uncles were drummers, and Ralph started playing at age 3. He also played trumpet in his high school band. He first played drums in funk bands, but began playing in jazz bands when he was 18.

In 1983, Peterson was hand-picked by Art Blakey as the second drummer in The Jazz Messenger Big Band, in which Peterson played until Blakey’s death in 1990. During a nearly four-decade long career, Peterson played on over 150 albums as a sideman with such musicians as Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Roy Hargrove, Michael Brecker, Regina Belle, Betty Carter, Ron Carter, and The Roots. 

Peterson was also active as a leader. He led the quintet V (also known as Volition), and in 1989 he established his group the Fo’tet, and then led a group called Triangular Too. He also had a group called Hip Pocket, in which he played trumpet.

Peterson was an instructor of percussion at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His list of students includes such drummers as Ari Honig, E.J Strickland, Tyshawn Sorey, Jonathon Blake, Mark Whitfield Jr., Kush Abadey, Justin Faulkner and many more. 

In recent years he released two big band CDs, a live album with his quintet Aggregate Prime, and a recording with an all-star group called The Messenger Legacy. His most recent album, Onward & Upward, was released in May 2020 on his own Onyx Productions Music Label.

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