Drummer Ralph Peterson Jr., Torchbearer for the Jazz Messengers, Dies at 58

Ralph Peterson Jr., a percussionist and bandleader whose work as a bandleader enshrined the legacy of hard-bop drumming, died March 1 of complications from cancer. He was 58. His death, in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, was confirmed by his publicist.

Peterson was one of two drummers to perform with The Jazz Messengers, having been hand-picked by Blakey as the second drummer in the legendary bandleader’s Jazz Messenger Big Band, in which he served until Blakey’s death in 1990. Peterson’s résumé includes more than 150 albums as a sideman, with credits on albums by Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove and former Messengers bandmates Terence Blanchard and Branford Marsalis.

As a leader, he has released several albums with his band Aggregate Prime, and is now preparing to release a big band CD dedicated to Blakey, as well as a record with five other Messenger alumni in a group called The Messenger Legacy.

An instructor of percussion at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Peterson’s list of students includes some of today’s top drummers in E.J. Strickland, Tyshawn Sorey and Justin Faulkner. His most recent album, Onward & Upward, was released in May 2020 on his own Onyx Productions Music Label.

A full obituary on Ralph Peterson Jr. will be posted shortly. 

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