In the eyes of some Juneau musicians, one of the greatest drummers on the planet is coming to Juneau this weekend.
Peter Erskine is part of the Bob Mintzer Quartet. Although his name may not be a household word, there are probably few people in Juneau who haven't heard his music.
Erskine has played on more than 400 recordings, backing Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Ricki Lee Jones, Bob James, Pat Methany and virtually every notable jazz and big band artist in America. He started his career in the early 1970s with Stan Kenton's Big Band and moved on to Weather Report, locking in with legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius as the rhythm section for that groundbreaking fusion band.
He's recorded a couple of dozen albums as a band leader or coleader in addition to his vast repertoire of session work. He and Mintzer have been friends and bandmates since 1970, when Mintzer was a senior and Erskine was a sophomore in high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.
Just on Monday night, May 13, Erskine played on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," backing Diana Krall and her band.
Mintzer and Erskine will combine forces this weekend for two notable events. At 11 a.m. Saturday, May 25, the Bob Mintzer Quartet will offer a free demonstration and discussion, "Inside the Jazz Quartet." The hour-long session is at the Egan Library at the University of Alaska Southeast, as part of Jazz and Classics on Campus Day. It's free and open to everyone.
The quartet also includes bassist Dave Carpenter, who played on (and composed tunes for) Erskine's most recent CD, "Badlands," and keyboardist Russell Ferrante, who plays in the Yellowjackets with Mintzer.
Mintzer does quite a bit of teaching and said he really enjoys working in the university setting.
"Typically the university scene is open to innovation," he said. "The focus is on the artistic side of things, without worrying about how many people show up. Students have a refreshing and idealistic view of music."
Mintzer's own Web site includes an "Ask Bob" page, giving folks access to Mintzer's considerable musical knowledge. He recommends music, offers tips and clarifies details regarding his published and recorded compositions.
People ask him how he got a certain polyphonic sound on a certain tune on a record, and he explains ("I screamed into the saxophone"); or "Dear Bob, How do I deal with super loud brass section in the big band I play in?" (pour concrete in the bells of the horns).
The highlight of the jazz portion of Jazz and Classics will be at 8 p.m. Saturday night, May 25. Mintzer, Erskine, Ferrante and Carpenter take the stage at Juneau-Douglas High School.
Sunday night, May 26, the festival closes with a concert by the Seattle a capella group mpact. This promises to be an accessible show filled with familiar music, delivered in an entertaining style. While Mintzer and his bandmates focus on art and spontaneous composition, mpact puts an emphasis on performance - and that's not to say they aren't great singers. The concert likely will include music by Prince, Earth, Wind and Fire, George Benson and the Beatles.
A few years ago, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council brought in a similar vocal group, a quartet in which the singers created drums, bass and instrumental sounds to accompany the melody and lyrics. It's an entertaining approach and a nice twist on the straightforward singing of an a capella group.
Perseverance Theater's Young Shakespeare Training Company wraps up its two-weekend run of "Julius Caesar" with performances 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday, May 24 and 25, at the Juneau-Douglas High School dance studio, the room behind the auditorium.
It seems that summer is finally upon us. Mountain goats are out on the slopes of Mount Juneau and black bears are cruising the woods. Perseverance Trail is open almost to the end, but areas such as Granite Creek are still pretty avalanche-prone. An afternoon or morning hike could be the perfect complement to an evening of music this weekend.
Riley Woodford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.