6A        Morning Edition
9A        Music
3P        Fresh Air
4P        All Things Considered
6:30P  The Daily

7P        Eclectic After Dark
banner101 3

Ralph Peterson Jr., performing in 2012 at Symphony Space in New York.

Dave Kaufman

Ralph Peterson Jr., a drummer, bandleader, composer and educator whose lunging propulsion and volatile combustion were hallmarks of a jazz career spanning more than 40 years, died on Monday in North Dartmouth, Mass. The cause was complications from cancer, his manager, Laura Martinez, tells NPR Music; Peterson had been living with the disease for the last six years. He was 58.

The sheer, onrushing force of Peterson's beat, paired with his alert ear and agile dynamism, made him one of the standout jazz musicians to emerge in the 1980s. Part of a striving peer group known as the Young Lions, which coalesced around the resurgence of acoustic hard bop, he distinguished himself early on as a powerful steward of that tradition.

"It's music that revolves around richly ambiguous harmonies and shifty, mercurial melodies," wrote Jon Pareles in 1990, reviewing a performance for the New York Times. "Difficult as it is to play, Mr. Peterson and his group rekindled the style's sense of risk and triumph."

Risk and triumph, each inextricable from the other, aptly describes nearly all of the music associated with Peterson — as a locomotive engine on the first several albums by trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison; as a leader of bands like Triangular, a venturesome piano trio, and the Fo'tet, with a frontline of saxophone and vibraphone; and as the anointed heir of Art Blakey, a hard-bop progenitor and drummer-bandleader of the Jazz Messengers, whose ranks produced several generations of major jazz talent.

Because of his own role in that band, Blakey didn't often work with other drummers. Peterson was a notable exception, initially as the second drummer in a Jazz Messengers Big Band. He became Blakey's protégé — and after the master's death in 1990, his torchbearer and successor. Peterson devoted his 1994 Blue Note album Art to Blakey's music and memory, and later formed the Messenger Legacy, a wrecking crew of other prominent Jazz Messengers alumni.

Peterson often emulated facets of Blakey's style — like a press-roll crescendo on the snare drum, an object lesson in tension and release — with unabashed vigor, confident that his own musical persona was capacious enough to accommodate them. "I think if you don't know how to play like somebody else first, you can never arrive at what somebody can identify as your own style," he said in a 2011 interview with pianist George Colligan, an occasional collaborator.

Among the many others in Peterson's circle were saxophonists Steve Wilson, Craig Handy and Wayne Escoffery; clarinetists Don Byron and Todd Marcus; cornetist Graham Haynes; and pianists Geri Allen, Michele Rosewoman, Orrin Evans and Uri Caine. Some of those musicians featured Peterson in their bands; most of them played in his.


On a 2001 album called The Art of War, Peterson served as the anchor for a band of younger players: Evans, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Jimmy Greene and bassist Eric Revis. They bring the requisite fire and commitment to his tune "Freight Train," whose title suggests one of the go-to metaphors his playing frequently inspired.

Born in Pleasantville, N.J., on May 20, 1962, Ralph Peterson Jr. came up in a family of drummers: his grandfather played drums, and so did four of his uncles. He started on drums at age 3, but it was as a trumpeter that he made his way into the jazz studies program at Rutgers University.

Partly through the benediction of Blakey, he took off as a drummer in the revivified hard-bop mode, bringing an explosive quality that defied any complaint of stale conservatism. After appearing on albums by Out of the Blue, a band assembled by Blue Note Records as a vehicle for young jazz players, Peterson made several of his own releases for the label — starting in 1988 with Triangular and V, both featuring Geri Allen.

With the Fo'tet, active through the '90s, Peterson explored a pugnacious and slippery form of post-bop, finding an essential partner in Bryan Carrott on mallet percussion. The group devoted entire albums to jazz repertory (Ornettology, The Fo'tet Plays Monk), but also served as a vehicle for new music. The Reclamation Project, released on Evidence Music in 1995, consisted entirely of Peterson compositions, including some bearing titles – "Turn It Over," "Song of Serenity," "Acceptance" – that hinted at his own winding path.

Ralph Peterson Jr., photographed during a session at WBGO in 2019. Jonathan Chimene/WBGO hide caption

toggle caption
Jonathan Chimene/WBGO

Ralph Peterson Jr., photographed during a session at WBGO in 2019.

Jonathan Chimene/WBGO

In his 20s, with a career on the rise, Peterson struggled with drug addiction. Years later, after finding sobriety, he often pointed to that experience as a cautionary tale for his students at the Berklee College of Music, some of whom became collaborators on the bandstand. Peterson formed the GenNext Big Band as a crucible for Berklee talent, patterned after the Blakey big band; its first album, in 2018, was a Blakey tribute titled I Remember Bu.

Peterson released that album on his own Onyx Music, which he formed a decade ago, partly out of frustration with the unavailability of his Blue Note recordings. Among the other albums on Onyx are Onward and Upward, by the Messenger Legacy, and two titles by Aggregate Prime, an exploratory quintet featuring Gary Thomas on saxophone and Mark Whitfield on guitar.

On a 2016 album titled Triangular III, Peterson enlists a former student, Luques Curtis, and his brother, pianist Zaccai Curtis. Here is the trio playing "Backgammon," a Walter Davis, Jr. tune; the footage captures Peterson's powerful presence on drums, and the way he could shift the emphasis in a performance from one moment to the next.


Peterson's next album, due out this spring, will also feature the Curtis brothers, along with vocalist Jazzmeia Horn and percussionist Eguie Castrillo. He titled it Raise Up Off Me, referring in part to the experience of Black Americans with law enforcement.

A lifelong embodiment of the warrior philosopher, Peterson also ran a Taekwondo studio in Boston; he received his ranking as a fifth dan black belt in 2019, as he was fighting cancer. Speaking with Bill Milkowski for a DownBeat profile the previous year, Peterson was open about what he had endured.

"I guess it's the Klingon in me," he said with a laugh, alluding to the bellicose Star Trek species. "I've had enough chances to be dead, but I'm grateful to be alive. And the focus and intensity and pace at which I'm now working and living is directly related to the spiritual wake-up call that tomorrow isn't promised."

Pin it
  • 104.9 FAQs
  • Join Us!
  • 104.9 Insiders
  • SoCo Baby
  • SoCo Calendar
  • Talk To Me
  • Hiding Places
  • Birdwatch

Why is 104.9 becoming an NPR station?

104.9 FM has been purchased by Northern California Public Media. The former KDHT is now KRCB FM. The frequency has been changed, by permission of the FCC, from a commercial station to a non-commercial station. NorCal Public Media wanted to acquire a larger, more powerful radio frequency, and Amaturo Sonoma Media Group was willing to sell 104.9 to NorCal Public Media.

Why did KRCB need another signal?

The former KRCB FM Radio 91 signal covers a very small area, and only a portion of Sonoma County. KRCB FM listeners have made it clear over the decades that what they wanted most from KRCB was to expand the geographic reach and signal strength of the public media news and music service. Over the course of two years, NorCal Public 



KRCB 1049 radio logoBrowse around our site and you'll see a few ways you can join in the effort to make KRCB 104.9 a great community radio station for Sonoma County. You can record a message that we play on-air, give us some new ideas, and keep abreast of what we're doing. New ways to engage with us our coming soon.
But there's an old fashioned one that's really important to us: become a member! We're making a big commitment to serving Sonoma County better, and while we really do want you to listen, and participate, helping pay for all of this would be really helpful too! Any amount helps, and we've got lots of cool gifts including some great CDs curated by our DJ Doug Jayne.
Please click:   Thank you!
Welcome to the new KRCB 104.9. This is a forum so we can hear from you, answer your questions, and generally exchange ideas about how we can improve.
FB screenshot
Read More
“Sonoma County Baby” began in 2013 as a way to connect new Sonoma County mothers with the history of the county. In cooperation with Sutter Health, a nice book was published that featured the stories of several dozen Sonoma County families, describing how they each came to Sonoma County. The book was given to new moms. The project’s website is here:
Now, we want to put stories like this on KRCB-FM, Sonoma County’s NPR station. How and when did your family come to Sonoma County? Does your story include some old Sonoma County landmarks that some of us might remember? What was interesting about it? Finding the interesting part is important! These recording are all short, less than a minute or under 100 words. That’s not enough time to tell the whole story—just the highlights. Here's a sample script that’s about the right length. Click "Read More" to hear what others have submitted.
Read More
Be on KRCB 104.9...answer this month's "Talk to Me" question: What does Sonoma County need that it doesn't already have? 
You can do a recording right from your computer or smartphone, but please use an external microphone (ear buds are good enough). Don't worry, you can try as many times you like until you get a "good take." We won’t hear any of the bad ones. After you finish, the page will give you a chance to listen and decide if you like it. Once you get a good one, you'll be asked for your name and email address. Then hit "Send.” (Click "reset" if you would rather try again.)
Go to the recorder page
Each week, Santa Rosa-based travel writer Dana Rebmann introduces us to great local spots to visit. Listen on-air for the latest. Or click here:
 Crane Creek Regional Park
 Marijke's Sculpture Grove
Read More

Listen to the Sonoma County Birdwatch!

fullerThroughout the week, we play short segments about what birds are out in Sonoma County and what they sound like, from Harry Fuller. Harry spent his working career as a TV and Internet newsman in the Bay Area.  He’s been leading bird trips and writing about birds for thirty years.  He has written three natural history books: Freeway Birding, I-5 San Francisco to Seattle; San Francisco’s Natural History, Sand Dunes to Streetcars; Great Gray Owl in California, Oregon & Washington. He blogs regularly about birds:  And he frequently leads birding trips on the Pacific Coast. Check him out at

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.