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Peter Erskine – The Return of DR.UM

Peter: My favorite jazz albums were albums that weren’t easy to make. Weren’t comfortable. They might’ve been made very quickly, but often times, it was less than ideal circumstance, and these are the moments where you reveal your true musical self. By nature of just how we came into the studio here at Fort Wayne, we were confronting a lot of things about ourselves as musicians, and creators, improvisors.

Mark: On this particular album, they came in with the intent to prepare it on the floor.

Peter: We didn’t have the chance to get together. We’d just been so busy, all of us. So we were kind of doing pre-production while at our instruments here in the studio.

Mark: I think we spent more time working out a quick arrangement than we actually did recording a take, because once they had the arrangement, one, two, three, burn three takes, alright, we liked take two. On to the next song. That is maturity as a musician.

Peter: And I loved what happened. I love how these sounds and performances were captured.

So it’s only sixteen bars. Okay, so let’s do the sixteen bars, and then back to the top. Rehearsal. One, two, three.

Mark: The thing about jazz is it’s one of those genres of music that comes across in its best and purest form when people are in a room communicating, whether they’re soloing, playing behind someone while they’re soloing, everyone is always communicating inbetween the notes, and as a unit. That’s where the synergy happens.

Peter: I think we’re counting wrong. That was only eight bars. Because one, two, three, four, that’s the sixteenth notes.

Ready when you are, Mark. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.


I loved The Beatles. I fell in love with them from the get-go. I was in a store the other day, they were playing, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and it sounded great. It didn’t sound old, it just was like a piece of music by Bach.

Great jazz is like that, there’s no time stamp on it. I don’t think there’s a time stamp on great music. The time stamp as far as my own musical growth or evolution, my father had been a bass player. He was a psychiatrist by the time I was born, but jazz was still his passion. He had a band called, “Fred Erskine and His Music For Moderates.”

I started taking lessons when I was five. My mother took me to see a Broadway show when I was seven. I looked out into the pit, and that cemented it for me. I wanted to be a professional musician. I wanted to wear the white shirt and a tie, but I already had the jazz snob thing going when I was pretty young.


Well, my very first drum set was a Conga drum from Havana, Cuba, and a sizzle cymbal. I like to say this functioned not only as a sort of drum set, but also as a compass that told me what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.


My relationship with Indiana goes back a long ways. I first came here in 1961, just after I turned seven years old to attend my first national stage band camp. So to make music here, it just feels like a lot of dots connected, and I do feel like I’m back home again.

Mark: One of the great things about being here in the mid-west is people stop by. So when the opportunity came up that Peter was in the area, there was more than one of us that said, “We need to have Peter come to Sweetwater.”

Peter: You know, I made my first professional recording in the studio, just outside of Bloomington, Indiana. It was a drummer/engineer studio owner named Jack Gilfoy, and he had a wonderful little studio, and we were recording onto an eight-track reel to reel machine, and that just blew our minds to have eight tracks.


My band features the incredible John Beasley on keyboards. My dear old friend and wonderful Bob Sheppard on saxophone.


And the young and phenomenal bass player from New Zealand, Benjamin Sheppard. No relation to Bob Sheppard.


So one day, I’m at the NAMM convention in Anaheim. Imagine NAMM on a Friday. It’s quite noisy, and I couldn’t really get a take on what the drums were sounding like, so the good folks at Tama followed up with an email. “We’d love for you to try the drums where you can actually sit down and play them and spend a little time.”

And I said sure. Instead of an A/B testing though, I thought it would be more interesting, possibly more profound to do an A/B/C/D/E testing.


And they simply sounded better. I decided to play them on a gig that night, called my wife, asked her to drive across town, and I didn’t say anything else about the drums, but what she said to me about the drums meant quite a bit.

She came up to me on the intermission and said, “I really like the way these drums are making you play.” Any instrument that inspires you, that makes you feel better about music, that’s a rewarding instrument to play, and that’s the situation I found myself in, and I’m really grateful for it.

I’m 62 now, and I found an instrument for the rest of my life.


You know, every time I play the drums, it feels like Christmas morning, because it’s just like, “Wow,” it’s a gift.


Snare drums. Snare drums are a drummer’s thing. We all have a real passion about snare drums, and that’s because they’re wonderful instruments, they’re so central to who we are as drummers and to what we play.

This is a maple snare drum. Solid maple. The shell is just a thing of beauty. Brass hoops. Tama calls their sound arc hoops, with kind of a curve, beautiful cross stick sounds, rimshots, which make the drum a delight to tune and even more fun to play.

The cymbals I’m using include a K Zildjian Constantinople, medium weight, 22 inch ride, a 19 inch Armand Ride, with three rivets, a 22 inch Swish Knocker. Great cymbal. An 18 inch K Dark Thin crash, which pairs up beautifully with this 16 inch K Custom session crash.


Beautiful sound of like, water.

Hi-hats, generally I use New Beats, because New Beats can do everything. This is a pair of the new Avedis cymbals, and…


Like being a kid in the 60’s again. But wait, there’s one more.

This is an eight inch flash splash. The flash splash is the kind of splash cymbal that captures that sense of danger. You know, it’s exciting.


So the go-to drum head, Remo Fiberskyn Diplomats on my tom batters, clear Ambassadors on the bottom, Remo coated Ambassador for my snare drum, and I’ll either use a coated Ambassador on like, an 18 inch bass drum, sometimes a Fiberskyn. For the 20 and 22, I’m happy to use the Powerstroke, which is just an incredible drum head, and I can play it, small group jazz, big band jazz, funk, anything.

I did bring a little bit of home with me. Not just my cymbals or this Tama drum set, but we replicated my Shure microphone setups, the same selection of mics that I use in my home studio, Mark Hornsby used here in the Sweetwater studio, and I’m going to let Mark tell you all the specs.

Mark: I don’t think there’s anyone recording music that is alive today that does not use Shure microphones. I use Shure microphones all the time when we’re recording. Peter as well.

So the setup for miking Peter’s Tama drum set is almost exclusively Shure microphones.

On Peter’s kick drum, which is a 20 inch kick, we had a Shure SM7 and a Royer 121. The combination of the dynamic microphone and the ribbon element is a really nice combination. It captures the air from the drum, it captures the attack, and when you have a drum that’s open like that, which is not uncommon in jazz music, it gets that bloom around the kick.

On the snare drum, we had two microphones. On the top, we had the new Shure KSM8 handheld Dualdyne microphone, which is a brand new microphone from Shure, and on the bottom, we had a KSM141, obviously with the phase on the bottom microphone flipped, or inverted.

On the hi-hat was a Shure KSM141, same as the microphone on the bottom of the snare. On the rack and floor toms were the Shure Beta 98 microphones.

On the overheads, we had the Shure Beta 181s. They’re small diaphragm, lollipop looking condensers, where you can unscrew the heads and put different pickup pattern capsules on the top of them. Cardioid, omnidirectional, or figure eight.

On this session, I used the figure eight capsules above Peter’s kit.

Any time you have a decent size room, I’m a fan of figure eight pickup patterns on overhead. The reflections from the ceiling or the sidewalls, if any, really open up with the drums and make the overheads sound bigger. They also give you better stereo separation when you pan them hard left and right in the sound field.

Finally for the room, we had a Royer SF12 stereo ribbon microphone. One of the things that makes that microphone work well in that room is because it’s two figure eight capsules, so when you raise that mic up in the center of the room, it’s creating an X pickup pattern, which is actually capturing the entire room.

So the cool thing about having an X/Y stereo microphone in a room like that is you’re really getting the ambience of the entire space.

I had two tracks for every take of the bass guitar. I had a Rupert Neve Designed DI, which was going through the mic pre into the Tube Tech CL-1B compressor, and as a second track, I had a 1973 Ampeg B15 back behind Peter in the airlock, with a Shure KSM44 in front of it.


On Bob’s saxophone, I was using a combination of two different microphones. I was using a Shure KSM44, and a Royer 121. It’s not uncommon to use multiple microphones on a source like a guitar or a saxophone. The key is to always make sure that the microphone diaphragms are the exact same distance from the source, otherwise you’ll introduce phase issues.

On the piano, we had a pair of Schoeps small diaphragm condensers positioned above the hammers at the front of the piano.

On the Fender Rhodes, a suitcase Rhodes, with just two speakers, we had a pair of KSM44 large diaphragm condensers, and they really are a Swiss army understated microphone. They have a flat frequency response, they always sound good, the great thing about the KSM44s, and the reason a pair of them have been in my road truck for the last 15 years, is that I know if I need a microphone that I can throw up and it’s going to work, that microphone will do the job.


Peter: We all look for synchronicity. We all hope for things to come together, that magical timing, pairing of people, and events. This whole project, with the band recording here at the Sweetwater studios is just a wonderful confluence of energy, time, talent, and intent on everyone’s part to make this work.

Mark: He’s a team leader. He brings people together. It’s been a joy for me to watch him push and nudge his friends, his band mates, for a little bit better performance.

Peter: I think not only did we make a record that sounds good, I think we actually made a little bit of musical history. This is a most worthy sequel to Dr. Um and the lost pages. I would never recommend that anyone deny themselves the opportunity or chance to come to a great recording studio, because there is a magic that happens when you get into a space like this, and we found that magic here at Sweetwater, and I know I’m definitely going to come back to do some more recording work here.





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