Born in Berkeley, California in 1960, Peter Apfelbaum started playing drums at the age of three, taking up piano and saxophone in elementary school and forming his first band at age 11. A product of the Berkeley Schools' pioneering Jazz Project, Apfelbaum began performing professionally while in his early teens and was a member of the award-winning Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Phil Hardymon. In 1977 - his senior year at Berkeley High - he formed the 17-piece Hieroglyphics Ensemble as a vehicle for composing and exploring non-traditional musical forms. The Ensemble was initially largely comprised of fellow BHS classmates, some of whom would later move to New York and achieve recognition in their own right. The band originally included pianist Benny Green, saxophonist Craig Handy and trumpeter Steven Bernstein and would later feature saxophonist Joshua Redman prior to his move to NY. The band released their self-produced debut album, Pillars, in 1979 and began to attract international attention for their unique mix of elements of world music with the aesthetic of the jazz avant-garde. Around this time Apfelbaum made his first sojourn to New York, where he worked with Carla Bley, David Amram and the late Eddie Jefferson. He toured Europe for the first time in the Fall of 1979 with Karl Berger's Woodstock Workshop Orchestra, an all-star band which included Lee Konitz, Oliver Lake, Don Cherry, Leroy Jenkins and Trilok Gurtu. In 1981 Apfelbaum returned to the Bay Area and resumed rehearsing regularly with the Hieroglyphics Ensemble. In the mid-80's he toured the U.S. with O.J. Ekemode and the Nigerian All-Stars (first on baritone saxophone, later on drums) and also worked regularly with Cuban percussionist Francisco Aguabella's band, as well as with local reggae and r&b bands. By 1988, the Hieroglyphics' performances had become more frequent, and in the Fall of that year Apfelbaum was commissioned by the San Francisco Jazz Festival to write a suite for the band. The resulting Notes From The Rosetta Stone was premiered at the Palace Of Fine Arts and featured the legendary trumpeter Don Cherry as guest soloist. Cherry was so impressed with the band that he took up residence in San Francisco and adopted Apfelbaum and fellow Hieroglyphs Bo Freeman (bass) and Josh Jones (drums) as his Multikulti group, touring extensively in North America, Europe and Japan over the next several years. Cherry also continued to appear frequently as a guest with the Hieroglyphics, and featured the band (as well as two Apfelbaum compositions) on his album Multikulti (A&M, 1989).
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