Ralph Peterson, Jazz Drummer

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ONWARD & UPWARD – Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy
FOR YOUR GRAMMY® CONSIDERATION - Best Jazz Instrumental Album

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Ralph Peterson Expands The Messenger Legacy with Onward & Upward, 14 Former Jazz Messengers Join 3 Legacy Messengers for Historical New Recording. Recorded on March 7 & 8, 2020 at The Bunker in Brooklyn, New York

  • Forth and Back – by Ralph Peterson – Osayanda Music, BMI,
    Phillip Harper (Trumpet), Jean Toussaint (Tenor Sax), Craig Handy (Alto Sax), Joanne Brackeen (Piano), Peter Washington (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Sonora – by Ralph Peterson – Osayanda Music, BMI
    Phillip Harper (Trumpet), Craig Handy (Tenor Sax), Steve Davis (Trombone), Anthony Wonsey (Piano), Melissa Slocum (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Onward and Upward – by Ralph Peterson – Osayanda Music, BMI
    Phillip Harper (Trumpet), Bill Pierce (Tenor Sax), Steve Davis (Trombone), Zaccai Curtis (Piano), Essiet Essiet (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Waltz for Etienne and Ebony – by Jean Toussaint , PRS/MCPS (UK)
    Brian Lynch (Trumpet), Jean Toussaint (Tenor Sax), Steve Davis (Trombone), Anthony Wonsey* (Rhodes), Peter Washington (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Red Black and Green Blues – by Robin Eubanks, Robin Eubanks Music, BMI
    Brian Lynch (Trumpet), Bill Pierce (Tenor Sax), Robin Eubanks (Trombone), Zaccai Curtis (Piano), Lonnie Plaxico (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Un Poco Haina – by Zaccai Curtis, Truth Revolution Publishing, ASCAP
    Brian Lynch (Trumpet), Bill Pierce (Tenor Sax), Craig Handy (Alto Sax), Zaccai Curtis (Piano), Essiet Essiet (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Sudan Blue – by Bill Pierce – 2nd Floor Music, BMI
    Bill Pierce (Tenor Sax), Kevin Eubanks (Guitar), Anthony Wonsey (Piano), Essiet Essiet (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Portrait of Lord Willis – by Steve Davis – Steve Davis Music , BMI
    Phillip Harper (Trumpet), Jean Toussaint (Tenor Sax), Steve Davis (Trombone), Joanne Brackeen (Piano), Peter Washington (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Tricks Of The Trade – by Joanne Brackeen - New True Illusion, BMI
    Brian Lynch (Trumpet), Jean Toussaint (Tenor Sax), Steve Davis (Trombone), Joanne Brackeen (Piano), Lonnie Plaxico (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • El Grito – by Brian Lynch – Hollistic Music, BMI
    Brian Lynch (Trumpet), Craig Handy (Tenor Sax), Robin Eubanks (Trombone), Zaccai Curtis (Piano), Essiet Essiet (Bass), Reinaldo Dejesus (Percussion), Ralph Peterson (Drums)
  • Along Came Benny – by Lonnie Plaxico – Luplax Publishing Co. SESAC
    Brian Lynch (Trumpet), Craig Handy (Tenor Sax), Robin Eubanks (Trombone), Zaccai Curtis (Rhodes), Lonnie Plaxico (Bass), Ralph Peterson (Drums)



This summit of the Messenger Legacy is an object lesson in just how deep and rich that legacy is.

The band name refers of course to the Jazz Messengers: drummer Art Blakey’s decades- (and generations-) long working band/finishing school. Fourteen of the seventeen players here (more on that number below) are alumni. The others—pianists Zaccai Curtis and Anthony Wonsey, percussionist Reinaldo Dejesus—are younger cats who represent "next links" in a chain that Blakey never stopped forging.

As for the tracks, they're band-member originals; Blakey only ever recorded one of them (Bill Pierce’ (“Sudan Blue”), and many, if not most, were written after his death. Why? Because the Messenger legacy was never about one man (note that the band isn’t called the Blakey legacy), or “the hits.”

Blakey's tutelage was about martialing creative resources and asserting individuality. He kept his signature tunes in the set, but he also required his musicians to compose and arrange—to replenishing the repertoire. That demand for fresh ideas and personal development while also honoring the jazz tradition? That's the real Messenger Legacy.

“He wouldn’t have had us stick to playing ‘One by One’ and ‘Blues March’ and ‘Children of the Night!’” says Peterson. “It’s great to play and honor those tunes. But to write a new page in the Jazz Messengers songbook, that’s what Art expected of us.”

Notice, too, that this new page of the songbook bears all the hallmarks of the Messengers. There's the variety of colors, the polyrhythms, the harmonies, the vast reservoirs of blues and soul, and the importance of continuity and telling a story. “There was no piece of music that didn’t fit what the record was saying,” Peterson says. “As each new piece came in, it was apparent that cats were looking at what had already been presented, and looking to fill stylistic, idiomatic, or compositional gaps in the arc of the record.”

Thus the bright swing of the drummer's “Onward and Upward” fits with the yearning beauty of Jean Toussaint’s “Waltz for Etienne and Ebony” like complementary puzzle pieces, and Joanne Brackeen’s syncopation and drama on “Tricks of the Trade” seems to tee up Brian Lynch’s picante flavorings on “El Grito.”

Most of the tracks are sextet performances (there's also one quintet and one septet), but seventeen musicians make up those configurations. That number is not accidental. It recalls Blakey’s first foray into leading a working band: a circa-1947 large ensemble called the Seventeen Messengers. Even as Peterson and the band extend the tradition, they also bring it full circle. That, too, is the Messenger Legacy.

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C.

Liner Notes by Ralph Peterson

I feel so fortunate to have been able to gather these amazing musicians for this project. Our relationships span close to four decades. I am eternally grateful for the high level of musicianship and professionalism demonstrated by these artists.

Brian Lynch has been with the Messenger Legacy from it’s beginning. He has been enthusiastic and eager to work with the project. Our connection goes back to the late 80’s and the Sweet Basil era of the NYC jazz scene. He joined the Messengers in 1988. His composition El Grito combines soulful blues based harmonies with clave. He has so many soloing High point room doesn’t allow me to elaborate but you will hear for yourself.

Bill Pierce was present the night I sat in with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at Mikell’s Jazz Club in NYC. He has been a valuable mentor more by example than anything. More recently, without his counsel, wisdom and friendship this would not have been as successful as it is. His tune is the ONLY song on the recording that was played or recorded by Art Blakey. That choice was made out of respect and deference to Bill as the Senior Messenger in the group.

I drove Robin Eubanks along with two other trombonists to Boston on the night of my first performance with The Jazz Messenger Big Band. I remember my van breaking down in New Haven but somehow we got to the gig on time. Robin has one of the most recognizable voices on his instrument and his Red Black and Green Blues is a swinging shuffle in the highest tradition of the Jazz Messengers. His playing on it and all the other pieces he played on were full of fire and precision.

I was directly responsible for putting Essiet Essiet on the bandstand with Art Blakey.Essiet played on my first Triangular recording with the late great Geri Allen. His playing with the band has been amazing and continues to grow which is a scary thought. I also spent a brief time crashing at an apartment he had in Brooklyn. He is amazing player great friend and one of the driving forces of the first Messenger Legacy recording Alive Vol6. He continues that great work here.

Craig Handy has been a friend for nearly 31 years and the ways I keep track of it is because Craig is Godfather to my daughter Sonora Tiye. That’s why his playing on that piece is so filled with passion and fire. He played with The Jazz Messengers before joining the Herbie Hancock Quartet. Craig is unique in his ability to play at an equally high level on Soprano, Alto and Tenor saxophone. And that versatility is on full display on this project.

Melissa Slocum worked briefly with The Jazz Messenger but that makes her as much a Messenger as anyone else who did the gig. She did several gigs with The Messengers at my recommendation. She is also the mother our daughter Sonora. So it made sense for her to have the first solo on Sonora. Due to time restraints it is the only song she appears on but she makes the moment count with a huge sound and amazing solo.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks and I have known each other since the mid to late 80’s and he played with Art Blakey in the Big Band that recorded in 1979. Our most recent encounter musically was when we played together at the retirement concert for Bill Pierce. That night we agreed that we had to play more together and there will be more to come. Kevin’s playing on Sudan Blue is just off the hook. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that we laid the track down without him then I sent it to him and he dropped his part in but it sounds like we were all in the same room nonetheless.

Phillip Harper and I actually have the longest running association. We met at Rutgers University in New Jersey in the early 80’s nearly 40 years ago. We played together on various college gigs as well as organ gigs in NJ. His deep sense of swing, full rich tone and commitment to the success of this project was vital.

I met NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen while a student at Rutgers when she came to perform with our Big Band there. She brought the challenging tune Egyptian Dune Dance to that concert and I remember being the only drummer there who could play it. I’ve been a fan ever since and now we are colleagues at Berklee College of Music. Her tune on this project Tricks Of The Trade was great fun to play. Her intro and solo on Portrait Of Lord Willis are classic.

Peter Washington and I played together in a version of The Jazz Messenger Big Band in 1988 at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival and while we haven’t played a lot since that era I am really grateful he was able and willing to make this project. His playing on Forth and Back, Waltz For Etienne and Ebony and Portrait of Lord Willis are swinging on the deepest of levels.

Jean Toussaint joined The Messengers in 1982 and played in the Jazz Messenger Big Band the night I became a Messenger. His approach, sound and inventiveness has made him a favorite of mine ever since. His Waltz for Etienne and Ebony is a rich lush canvas on which he delivers a masterpiece of a performance.

While Steve Davis and I may have the shortest direct association with each other, his enthusiasm and commitment was that of a long time friend. Steve was recommended to Art Blakey by Jackie McLean and joined the Jazz Messengers in 1989. He played beautifully on all the tunes he was involved with and his Portrait of Lord Willis, a dedication to the great pianist Larry Willis provides the perfect balance in this gorgeous ballad.

Bassist Lonnie Plaxico did extended tenures with Art Blakey between 1983 and 1986. He and I also worked together with vocalist Cassandra Wilson. Lonnie’s playing was amazing on the recording and his tune Along Came Betty kicked everyone’s ass including mine but it creates the perfect finale to a project that simultaneously honors the predecessors and keep a forward looking eye.

Zaccai Curtis came on the scene a good 10 years after Buhaina’s passing. He did however apprentice inthe bands of Brian Lynch, Donald Harrison and your truly making him more than qualified to be call an Associate or Legacy Messenger. His playing has continued to grow since joining the Messenger Legacy and his tune Un Poco Haina combines the feeling of Bud Powell’s Un Poco Loco and Buhaina’s driving feel on all Afro Cuban grooves.

Anthony Wonsey is another “Legacy Messenger”. His amazing playing was amazing on all the tunes especially his work on fender Rhodes on “Waltz” makes clear he would have been a Messenger in time had Mr. Blakey lived longer.

Percussionist Reinaldo Dejesus and I began working together with The Curtis Brothers Trio. He then joined and recorded with The Fo’tet on the Duality Perspective recording. With me Reinaldo follows in the lineage of great percussionists who played with Art Blakey like Big Black and Giovanni Hidalgo.

Although he did not play on the recording or contribute any material master pianist and producer Donald Brown were my ears in the control booth for this project and his deep musical insight, calm disposition and valuable suggestions help to make this project the success it is.



Executive Producer – Herman Skalka
Producer – Ralph Peterson
Co-Producer/Recording Supervisor, Donald Brown

Recording Dates: March 7 and 8, 2020
Recorded at - The Bunker Recording Studios, Brooklyn NY

Engineer - Aaron Nevezie, Editor/ Mix Engineer/ Drum Tech - Dean David Albak, Mastering – John McCaig

Engineer - Aaron Nevezie
Editor/ Mix Engineer/ Drum Tech - Dean David Albak
Mastering – John McCaig

Business Manager – Laura Martinez, laura@worldfusionevents.com

Co-Arrangers, Daniel Szczeopanski on Forth and Back; Onward and Upward Brandon Lin on Sonora


“As always, Thanks to HP for grace and mercy Mom, Dad (in spirit), Lovey, Ron H., KMAC, Laura, Lydia, The MGH Crew, a special shout of thanks to foxhole friend, Hank Skalka for his unwavering friendship and support., Also thanks to the many family and friends who continue to support me on this journey. Thanks to all the Jazz Messenger Alumni who have participated in this project for your amazing musicianship and professionalism. And last but not least to Art Blakey, whose Legacy lives in all of us.” – Ralph Peterson

Ralph Peterson plays Mapex Drums, Meinl Cymbals,Evans Onyx Drum Heads, Vic Firth Sticks, Brushes and Mallets, and Cymbal Protection exclusively.


Raise Up Off Me Raise Up Off Me Back

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Onyx Productions Announces the Release of Raise Up Off Me, Ralph Peterson Jr.’s Final Recording. Featuring Zaccai and Luques Curtis, Special guests Jazzmeia Horn and Eguie Castrillo 

Recorded at Onyx Productions Studio in North Dartmouth, MA in December 7, 8, 9, 2020
Featuring: Ralph Peterson – drums, trumpet, percussion, kalimba, tounge drum, rain stick, frame drum, djimbe, cajon, water drum, tambourine, cowbell
Zaccai Curtis – piano, keyboard
Luques Curtis – bass
Jazzmeia Horn – vocals (7, 8, 13 on digital/LP)
Eguie Castrillo – percussion (6), conga, timbale, cowbell, cymbal


  • Raise Up Off Me (Ralph Peterson) 08:02
  • The Right To live (Ralph Peterson) 07:25
  • Four Play (James Williams) 04:31
  • I Want To Be There For You (Zaccai Curtis) 08:21
  • Bouncing With Bud (Bud Powell) 06:59
  • Blue Hughes (Ralph Peterson) 05:56
  • Tears I Can Not Hide (Ralph Peterson) 06:02
  • Naima’s Love Song (John Hicks) 06:51
  • Jodi (Ralph Peterson) 06:49
  • Fantasia Brazil (Ralph Peterson) 06:41
  • Shorties Portion (Patrice Rushen) 04:14
  • Raise Up Off Me Too! (Ralph Peterson) 06:34
  • Please Do Something (Bonus Track) (Jazzmeia Horn) 06:16 (digital/LP only)
Unless indicated, all compositions written by Ralph Peterson



Just because I met Ralph Peterson when I was 18 years old, just because he took me under his wing and treated me like his little brother, just because we recorded several records together, just because he picked me up when I fell, and just because I picked him up when he was down doesn't make me a good candidate for writing these liner notes. Although, because I can say I loved Ralph Peterson and he loved me, there is nothing more cathartic than the opportunity to write about "Raise Up Off Me," and I'm honored.

If you knew 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. While "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!

"Raise Up Off Me" immediately makes me think of my 7 am daily Facebook check. The first post to pop up would be Ralph running on a treadmill, walking, practicing martial arts, or just plain old inspiring through words. From the moment he was diagnosed with Cancer, he FOUGHT! Raise Up Off Me I GOT SOME SHIT TO DO... and He Did It!

With the outstanding Curtis Brothers' (Luques Curtis on bass and Zaccai Curtis on piano) on the team, we are taken on a journey through Ralph's musical and personal legacy. In 1985 Ralph recorded "Blue Hughes" with Out Of The Blue. A band of "young lions" including Ralph on drums and others like Kenny Garrett, Ralph Bowen, Robert Hurst, and Michael Mossman, to name a few. Thirty-five years later, he brings it back with a fresh new arrangement made perfect for the Curtis Brothers and special guest Eguie Castrillo. "Tears I Cannot Hide" from Ralph's 2009 release "Subliminal Seduction" gets an entirely different treatment with the addition of Jazzmeia Horn's heartfelt vocals and original lyrics. The lyric " I am free, no more misery" speaks to my heart every time. Sprinkled within the record, you'll hear Ralph taking the opportunity to pay homage to his mentors and elders. Patrice Rushen, Bud Powell, John Hicks, and the great Walter Davis Jr., whom Ralph recorded with on "Scorpio's Rising" compositions, are all given new life.

Anyone who has experienced Ralph Peterson's playing is aware of his deep feeling, "Respect for Truth," and the remarkable clarity he communicates them. Also evident to the listener and bandmates is his dedication to uplifting EVERYONE on the bandstand. When I last saw Ralph, he looked at a few of us sitting there and said, "I'm glad I played the way I played my entire life because I always gave my all and have no regrets". As he was known to say while in the studio when asked to do a second or third take, "I meant what I played .... did you?"

Years ago, I composed a tune in jest of Ralph. Ralph was confident, secure in his skin, and occasionally braggadocious. I didn't always understand or appreciate where he was coming from, but I enjoyed his "Volition". The tune was titled "Professor Farworthy," a nickname a fellow musician came up with for Ralph. "Ralph is far more worthy in his head than the rest of the world thinks," said the fellow musician. For 20 years, I privately laughed at the song but never told Ralph it was about him. A few years ago, while in a soundcheck, Ralph said, "let's play Farworthy". I was so paranoid because I had no idea he knew about the song. I looked over at him, and he laughed that loud laugh and said, "If I can be Farworthy, then you will be Savoir-fair " even in jest, Ralph found a way to compliment and "learn me" (Ralph's saying). Savoir Faire was his way of saying I was everywhere but needed to focus on where I wanted to be musically and otherwise. At that moment, I realized Ralph did think he was WORTHY and FAR MORE WORTHY for that matter. Far More Worthy than the constraints of a record label, venue, jazz periodical, and any higher learning institution. But not only was he Far More Worthy, but we all were also. All of his students, bandmates, friends, family, and colleagues were better because we knew Ralph Peterson Jr.

"Raise Up Off Me" I got shit to do, and SO DO YOU! With Love and Respect. ~Orrin Evans 88 Keys Productions/Imani Records



Executive Producer – Herman Skalka, Producer – Ralph Peterson

Recording Dates: December 7, 8, 9, 2020
Recorded at – Onyx Productions Studio, North Dartmouth, MA

Engineer – Dean David Albak
Recording Assistant-Andrew Wilcox
Mastering – John McCaig

Business Manager – Laura Martinez, laura@worldfusionevents.com
Graphic Design/Photos of Ralph Peterson-Edward LaRose
Street Protest Photography-Ray Shaw
Publicist – Lydia Liebman Promotions
Legal Counsel – Keith R. McKinley


“Thanks, as always to Hank Skalka, to the Higher Power for grace and mercy, to Mom and Dad (in spirit for their endless overwatch), Ron H., KMAC, Laura Martinez, Lydia Liebman, Lovey, Mike M, Hanshi Lingo, Keith McKinley, my fellow teachers, deans at Berklee College of Music, The Onyx Productions Music Studio – Dean Albak, Ed LaRose, to the musicians performing on this CD, Jazzmeia Horn, Luques Curtis, Zaccai Curtis, and Eguie Castrillo, to Orrin Evans for his friendship and support, and to the many people who helped make this recording a reality.

To the young people who inspire me, with gratitude, to my students at Berklee College of Music past and present, to Sonora Slocum, Jazz Robertson, Saydee and Haylee McQuay, all of whom give me boundless hope. Thanks for allowing me to share.

We hope everyone enjoys the music we created, carry it with you.“ – Ralph Peterson

Ralph Peterson plays Mapex Drums, Meinl Cymbals, Vic Firth Custom Sticks, Evans Onyx Drum Heads, Cympad Cymbal Protectors, and EarthWorks Microphones, EXCLUSIVELY!

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