Ralph Peterson Jr., jazz drummer and bandleader, dies at 58

Ralph Peterson Jr., the drummer and bandleader who broke onto the scene with the Jazz Messengers in the early ’80s and went on to be a torchbearer of hard-bop, has died at the age of 58.

Peterson died March 1 in North Dartmouth, Mass., due to complications from cancer, according to his publicist.

In 1983, Art Blakey handpicked Peterson to serve as his backup drummer with the legendary Jazz Messengers. Peterson was the only other drummer to sit in that chair, which he did until Blakey’s death in 1990.

Peterson played on more than 150 albums with artists such as Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Charles Lloyd, Betty Carter and Uri Caine.

Peterson recorded 23 albums as a bandleader. His first was 1988’s Ralph Peterson Quintet: V on Blue Note, and his latest was 2019’s Legacy Alive, Vol. 6, which featured five other former members of the Jazz Messengers. In 2010, he started his own record label, Onyx Productions.

As an educator, Peterson taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.