Peter Ecklund

Peter EcklundPeter Ecklund died on April 8 after a nearly two decades-long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. A standout cornet player with the Yale Concert Band and the New Haven Symphony, he intended to be a teacher. But in the ’70s he realized his true calling and became a full-time musician, playing with Bonnie Raitt, Gloria Gaynor, Gregg Allman, Maria Muldaur, Leon Redbone, and Paul Butterfield. He also recorded in studio with many others, including Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Loudon Wainwright. He played on the Ken Burns documentaries The Civil War, Baseball and The American West, the films King of the Gypsies, Eight Men Out, and Fried Green Tomatoes, and was a frequent guest on Prairie Home Companion.

He was in David Bromberg’s band for many years and recorded as a sideman for hundreds of albums and film scores, including three of Woody Allen’s films. He played with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and with the band his most known for, the Orphan Newsboys with Marty Grosz. In addition to recording solo albums, including “Strings Attached” and “Gig,” he was the author of two books of transcribed jazz solos of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke and two play-along book/CDs of swinging jazz for Music Minus One. His Blue Suitcase Trio mixed traditional jazz with other American music, and his Lindy Hop Heaven band specialized in swing dance music. 2001 he was awarded the Fats Waller Prize by the Jazz Institute of France.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of Peter’s death,” says Bob Jenks. “He and I roomed together for two years, from the Fall of 1965 until Spring 1967, and we kept in touch after graduation. Peter was a talented musician who specialized in traditional jazz, particularly Dixieland. He was also a very skilled whistler, and you can listen to him whistle on some of his recordings, like “Laughing at Life,” by The Orphan Newsboys, a quartet of which he was a founding member. Peter was a remarkable person with a wonderful, incisive intellect. He also had a subtle, understated sense of humor that often made me laugh out loud.”

“I knew Pete as a very fine musician – that is, he was the fine musician; I was a schlemiel – in the Yale Band,” says Ron Meister. “I ran across him ten years ago at a music club in Greenwich Village, where he was still playing bravely despite his Parkinson’s disease. Pete was always a fine, friendly fellow.”

“I’m very sorry to hear about Peter,” adds Jim Bourne. “I well remember one time, when I was doing a jazz program on WYBC, that he came by the studio. I was somewhat in awe of the fact that he was a real musician (if still an undergrad), but I also remember that he seemed quite shy and almost deferential. I am most proud of classmates who have gone into the arts, especially music, and especially jazz, as there are so few of them; and it saddens me when the number diminishes.”

“Whenever I remember Peter, there’s a trumpet in the picture,’ says Mike Orlansky. “Maybe I’m hearing his crisp, clear tone coming from somewhere behind me in the Yale Concert Band. Or he’s in a dimly-lit jazz club, picking up a tune from another member of the combo and then passing it on. Or we’re just talking after a concert while Peter holds his trumpet in one hand.

“Peter was a trumpet virtuoso (and played the guitar, too); a thoughtful and considerate person. He had a gentle, soft-spoken manner, and was well-liked and respected by everyone in the Yale Band, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, and the many other ensembles of which he was a part. People who got to know Peter appreciated his light and whimsical side. He liked to whistle long, complicated pieces, and naturally was quite adept at that. I never heard Peter say an unkind word about anyone.

“In Senior year, Peter was selected as President of the Band, and turned out to be a fine leader and organizer. In our planning meetings for football halftime shows, Peter was sometimes the adult in the room who prudently restrained us from carrying out stunts that might have proven embarrassing to us and to Yale.

“That year’s Concert Band schedule was ambitious and successful, thanks largely to Peter. Our Fall ’66 Pops Concert, for example, offered an inventive array of musical genres, and appearances by the Alumni Banjo Club, representing Yale classes from 1917 through 1932; the Vassar Jug Band; and the Dixieland combo Eli’s Chosen Seven, with Peter on the cornet. (Later, that group was known as Peter’s Red-Hot Pickled Peppers.)

“Peter went on to a long, versatile and distinguished career, performing and recording with many top musicians and groups. He may have appeared to be in the background, yet his solid presence and artistry were always felt, and made the ensembles better. Regrettably, as the years went by, I met up with Peter only a few times. Once, it was at a memorable concert in Washington, DC, where he performed with the wonderful folk duo Jay Ungar (a classmate of mine at the High School of Music & Art in NYC) and Molly Mason. It was great to catch up with him after the concert. I wish we’d had more times like that. Although Peter has left us, his music and the memories of his friendship remain.”

Linked below are a few videos of some of Peter’s performances. Hear for yourself how great he was.

Try A Little Tenderness (Peter on cornet)

Black Bottom Stomp (Peter on cornet)

Bullfrog Blues (Peter on cornet)

Sweet Sue (Peter on ukulele and lead whistler)

Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Peter on ukulele)

Ain’t She Sweet (Peter on cornet)

The Whistling Song (Peter is lead whistler)

Can’t We Be Friends (Peter on cornet)