A respected educator who is currently a fullprofessor at the Berklee College of Music, Peterson’s protégés include such potent new drummers on the New York scene as Ari Hoenig, E.J. Strickland, Justin Faulkner, Rodney Green, Vince Ector, Jonathan Blake, Dion Parsons and Mark Whitfield Jr. He is also a clinician and endorser for Mapex Drums, Vic Firth Sticks, Axis Pedals as well as Bosphorus Cymbals, where he designed their newest cymbal line aptly called The Oracle.
Peterson, who studied with master drummer Michael Carvin at Rutgers University in 1980. In 1983, he met Blakey, who chose Peterson to be the second drummer in his big band for a performance at the Boston Globe Festival. Ralph continued in the Jazz Messenger Big Band until Blakey’s death in 1990. Peterson takes seriously the honor and responsibility of being the “Last Messenger Drummer” and later paid homage to Blakey on his 1993 Blue Note recording Art. “Being chosen by Art Blakey is more than just something I throw around as a badger of honor,” he says, “it’s something I work real hard to live up to.” (Peterson’s most recent discoveries are two Berklee students, clarinetist Felix Pelkli and bassist Norishida Shiota, whom he plans to showcase on an upcoming Fo’tet project).
Born on May 20, 1962 in Pleasantville, New Jersey, Peterson first got behind the traps set at age three. As he told Jazziz magazine:“I believe I was predestined to be a drummer,” he says. “My early playing was a basement experience, playing along with records by James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire and Parliament- Funkadelic, where the beat was powerful and primal. I'd wanted to play since I saw Sonny Payne with the Count Basie Orchestra when I was 13. But my interpretation of jazz didn't venture very far beyond Maynard Ferguson's Primal Scream until I was out of high school. I'm not a jazz baby. I'm a funk baby who came through the Fusion realm of George Duke and Stanley Clarke.”
In the 1990s, Peterson played as a sideman with Jack Walrath, Craig Handy, Charles Lloyd, Kip Hanrahan Bheki Mseleku, Courtney Pine, Steve Coleman, George Colligan, Stanley Cowell, Mark Shim and Betty Carter while also releasing two albums on the Evidence label, 1994’s The Reclamation Project and 1995’s Fo’tet Plays Monk. The following decade he released a string of recordings on Criss Cross – 2001’s The Art of War, 2002’s Subliminal Seduction, 2003’s Test of Time and 2004’s Fo’tet Augmented – as well as two albums in 2000 on the British Sirrocco label, Back to Stay (which featured Michael Brecker) and Triangular 2 (with pianist Dave Kikoski and bassist Gerald Cannon). Aside from the Unity Project, The Fo’tet and his Quintet, where he plays trumpet (recording later this year), Peterson also leads a trio that features such stellar sidemen as The Curtis Brothers (Luques and Zaccai), Orrin Evans and young monster Victor Gould as well as an electric group featuring saxophonist Craig Handy and guitarist Dave Stryker.