Peter Apfelbaum formed the Hieroglyphics Ensemble
as a vehicle for composing and
exploring non-traditional music forms while still a senior at Berkeley
High School. The
original group included pianist Benny Green, saxophonist Craig Handy
Steven Bernstein, and would later feature saxophonist Joshua Redman.
recording, “Pillars,” released in 1979, attracted international
attention for its mix of world
music elements with the aesthetic of the jazz avant garde. Apfelbaum’s “Notes
Rosetta Stone,” featuring Don Cherry as guest soloist, so impressed
the trumpeter that he
relocated to the Bay Area, forming his group “MultiKulti” around
the nucleus of Apfelbaum
and his rhythm section. Since then, Apfelbaum has continued to innovate,
various iterations of the Hieroglyphics Ensemble on both Coasts, opening
for the Grateful
Dead and lending his talents on saxophone to artists as varied as Trey
Anastasio, Jai Uttal
and Naná Vasconcelos. Peter just received a grant from Chamber
Music America and the
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
In order to get to know him better,
we asked Peter to
answer a few questions about himself:
What is the first recording you
remember hearing as a child?
Ella Jenkins’ “Adventures In Rhythm” is the
fi rst thing I can remember—a record of folksongs
and simple rhythms for children. I was 2 or 3 years old. The next
year it was “Meet The Beatles.” I was playing drums at
that time and I always wore a ring when I played, in
identification with Ringo. Shortly after that, my parents got me “Caravan” by
Art Blakey and
the Jazz Messengers.
Who is your favorite jazz musician under the age of 30?
I’d have to say it’s a tie between
Ambrose Akinmusire and Justin Brown. Wait, is Dayna
Stephens under 30?
How much do you practice each week?
It all depends on what project I have coming up. For my own
stuff I usually play through the
music on piano for weeks beforehand, to refamiliarize myself with
the harmonic and rhythmic
possibilities, and to get the timing and fl ow
of the material. Dealing with Josh Roseman’s
music requires some piano and bass keyboard practicing, because
his lines are so insane.
Dafnis Prieto’s music has unusual and challenging harmonic
sequences so I often record the
changes and play over them on saxophone several times to get some
idea of what’s possible.
But if I don’t have a performance or recording coming up, I
really practice an instrument—I just let ideas go in and out
of my head and try to write down the good ones. I try to stretch
What’s the last book you’ve
“Dixie Rising” by Peter Applebome. He writes for
the New York Times. I first noticed his
name because it’s almost the same as mine, and then I started
reading him and found that
he’s really good. The book deals with how the culture of
the South is having a profound effect
on shaping US culture in general, which is something I realized
been paying enough
If you could play with any other
musician, living or dead (with whom you have not played),
who would it be and why?
I’d like to do something with Thurston
Moore of Sonic Youth.
The one I’m working on right now.
Who is your greatest
Probably Cecil Taylor. From him I learned that sometimes you
just have to come up with your
own chords and chord progressions. It takes longer that way but
it can be worth it, especially
if you have a very specific idea of what you want to express.
I use other people’s chords
What hobbies do you have?
Lately I’ve been making my own salsa.
find out more about Peter, go to peterapfelbaum.com