Ralph Peterson, Jr. Day

May 20, 1962 – March 1, 2021

A tribute to the drummer and bandleader

Drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr. passed away on March 1, 2021 at the age of 58.

Peterson was born on March 20, 1962, in Pleasantville, New Jersey. He began playing percussion at the age of three and also started playing the trumpet while in high school.

In 1983, he became an occasional member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, joining Blakey whenever a second drummer was desired.

During the 1980s, Peterson played with the Terence Blanchard-Donald Harrison Quintet. He also collaborated with Walter Davis, Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Roy Hargrove, Jon Faddis, Dewey Redman, and Out Of The Blue. In the 1990s, he worked with Jack Walrath, Charles Lloyd, Courtney Pine, Steve Coleman, Stanley Cowell, Betty Carter, and others.

In 1988, Peterson released his first of at least 26 albums as a leader. He led several hard bop-oriented groups, some of which he referred to as his “Fo’tet,” featuring notable musicians such as Geri Allen, Steve Wilson, Terence Blanchard, Don Byron, and more.

Despite facing drug and health issues, Peterson made a comeback in later years. He led groups dedicated to the Jazz Messengers and recorded numerous albums during his final five years before succumbing to cancer.

Here is Ralph Peterson Jr. leading a quintet on February 27, 2019, performing an original composition.

-Scott Yanow