Book review by Geoff Moss in Le Batteur

Book review by Geoff Moss in Le Batteur

In the 60’s, the “Modern Jazz Scene” was teeming with many talented musicians. Phil Seamen influenced a new generation of drummers thanks to his unique approach to jazz, jazz drumming and percussion. Internationally known drummers, such as Charlie Watts (Stones), Keith Moon (The Who) and Ginger Baker (Cream), are but a few among many others that Phil Seamen motivated and encouraged over the years. Phil was a pioneer who also supported famous drummers like Jon Hiseman (Colosseum), Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix), Trevor Morais (Tina Turner, Bjork and The Peddlers), who were the early drivers of fusion and improvisers in progressive rock. Born in 1926, Phil Seamen from an early age listened to jazz vinyl records featuring Gene Krupa. Having become a professional at 19 years of age, he was so impressive on the drum kit that he was asked to join Nat Gonella’s Georgians band in 1944. He later played with the Joe Loss orchestra, before joining the fine band of Jack Parnell, which featured Billie Holiday at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. Phil Seamen had a large collection of African, South American and Caribbean music on vinyl records and he integrated African rhythms into his innovative playing patterns with his classical percussion hand grip of the sticks, which provided him with an explosive sound. He had a unique presence on the kit and he would electrify audiences with his diligent choices around the instrument, always with something new and with impeccable time.

Phil Seamen was the first drummer of what was probably the first be-bop combo in the UK, with Danny Moss (tenor sax). Very early on, in 1953, he also worked with Kenny Graham (tenor sax), on Afro-Cuban sounds, at the same time, if not earlier than Dizzy Gillespie. Phil and Kenny Graham experimented with African rhythms and in free jazz ensembles. The London West Indian community had many rhythm players of mostly African origin, with amazing talent. The outcome of the combinations of be-bop drumming of Phil Seamen with bongos, congas, cow bells and various percussions, were exceptional. Working on the tom-tom part of the drum kit and rimshot accents, Phil would emphasize and provide formation to the music. A sax alto called Joe Harriott joined Phil’s quintet in 1956. Joe had been born in Jamaica and, with fellow Jamaicans, Coleridge Goode (bass) and Dizzy Reece (trumpet), they started recording for Decca, in London. In 1960, theyrecorded the album called “Abstract”, which is a great example of free jazz from the beginning, with rhythms and dynamic changes played with confidence, intention and virtuosity. – For those of us living in France, let’s note that Coleridge Goode (bass) recorded with the Quintette du Hot Club de France of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.

I was contacted by Peter Dawn for an official interview in 2012, when he was compiling and searching for documentation for his book. I had met Phil and had seen him play numerous times in London. He was living not far from Battersea, SW11, where I spent several years. Every time I saw Phil, I noticed that he always managed to raise the level of play from other musicians who shared the bandstand with him. His work with fast tempos and arrangements at tempo with musicality won this incredible drummer high praise from Buddy Rich and Philly Jo Jones. When I moved to Battersea, SW11, South London, I was able to see Phil play on a regular basis in clubs, hotels, and local pubs with jazz residencies, etc. On occasions, I asked him questions about jazz drumming and in Peter’s book he explains how Phil would write notes (dots) for me on the back of his 20 cigarette packets for me to go and practice. He advised me to listen to African and world music and to work on the Jim Chapin drum exercises. In the book, one can see a page of my music notebook showing stroke rolls and Phil's notation which he called “swing”.

Phil died on October 13, 1972 at the age of 46. Percussion Genius gathers a large number of stories collected from jazz musicians in the UK, as well as extraordinary research and discoveries. It is possible to buy the book and to download records on the website.

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