Key to the Highway2017-03-22 St. Patty’s Day show
Phil Seamen 1953-1959
Various Brit Blues 1968-1972
*************************Please note that this show was intended to air two weeks ago, before rather than after Saint Patrick’s Day, but due to problems with my computer, including its disc writing capabilities, had to be postponed. In the meantime, we have a new void created by the death of Chuck Berry and I would be remiss in not bringing it up. No doubt Chuck Berry was THE most influential Rock ‘n’ Roller, but he was also very much a Blues Man. For almost five decades now I have expressed my opinion that much of what others may not consider the Blues, I do, and back that up with the statement, “After all, Chuck Berry didn’t sing ‘Roll Over Beethoven, dig this Rock ‘n’ Roll’”. Later this year I shall pay him the musical tribute he deserves, but not now when so many others will likely be doing the same, and when I can put in the time to do it right.
*************************So, last show we did our annual Mardi Gras show, and already we’re ready to celebrate another hard partying day with our annual St. Patrick’s Day edition. Now, you might think that the busiest night in the cab driver’s year would be New Year’s Eve, but I found that it was often eclipsed by St. Patty’s Day when it occurred on a weekend as it does next Friday. With New Year’s Eve, most folks got to where they wanted to be by at least 11pm and nobody wanted to leave before midnight so you had a lull time of about an hour, but on the day when everybody claims to be Irish they get ploughed beginning right after work and fall by the wayside at varying times so the cabbie stays busy all through the evening until the bars close. Where New Year’s Eve holds an advantage is that there are a lot more parties at people’s homes so the fares generally last later into the morning.
Anyway, it seems like we just concluded our two and a half year study of the British Blues so there isn’t much new stuff to present today, but a couple of times early in the process I wasn’t ready with a blog so I took a look back at the past few shows and played the best of the best for about a dozen of the most recent shows. That is what we do here for the shows between April 8th 2015 (show 26) and September 23rd 2015 (show 34). We did 52 shows in the series, so that leaves us with plenty of material to use for the next few years. enjoy
*************************But I did acquire a nice 4CD box set since closing the study and we’ll use the choicest tracks from it for half of today’s show. When the 2015 Jazz marathon was approaching, I tried to showcase some British Jazz and whom I was most interested in was drummer Phil Seamen. Although he was considered the best European drummer of the 50s and 60s, he seldom was the bandleader on records (I have seen the number two and a half and wonder how the half got there) but his presence as a sideman is where he built his reputation. The Proper box set Seamen’s Mission has nothing but his work backing up some of the best Jazz ensembles in England and it seems like for each recording there was made room for a drum solo, although oftentimes brief. I don’t know exactly when I became curious to hear his work, it might have even been as recent as during the Development of the British Blues series, but I do know it was when I discovered he was essentially the idol of Cream’s Ginger Baker.
Fair warning: this might get boring as we mention many British Jazzmen’s names which are likely to be very meaningless to most of you readers, but there is some interesting information contained within. Seamen came onto the scene as Bebop was influencing British Jazz. This collection includes some of the recordings Seamen made between 1952 and 1960 and, while it was not 100% in chronological order, that is how I present his music with two exceptions, the first and the last tunes on this airing.
Born Philip William Seamen in Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, on August 28th 1926, he took up the drums at the early age of six and by the time he was eighteen was playing professionally with the Len Reynolds ensemble for a short stay before moving on to the popular Trad Jazz band, Nat Gonella and his Georgians, in 1944. In 1947, Seamen moved on to the band of Kenny Turner but was back with Gonella in 1948. Phil believed that the time was well spent with Nat as he became a proficient reader and otherwise perfected his craft. It was then that Phil claimed to be in one of the earliest British Bebop groups formed out of the Gonella band with altoist Johnny Rogers, tenor man Kenny Graham, and bassist Lennie Bush. Later, at various times between 1952 and 1958, Phil would perform and record with Graham’s Afro-Cubist projects. Kenny had connections with London’s West Indian community and therefore featured a strongly rhythmic Jazz sound. While with the Tommy Sampson Orchestra, whom he joined in 1948, the Bebop quintet he and tenor saxist Danny Moss assembled from its ranks appeared during a portion of the orchestra’s September 1949 radio broadcast.
After a brief stint with the band of Paul Fenoulhet early in 1950, he went on to a 14 month stay with the Joe Loss Orchestra, at that time the most popular dance band in the U.K. From there, in April 1951, Phil went on to fellow drummer Jack Parnell’s orchestra and recorded with them in an October 1952 session which will likely be aired as part of our April 26th pre-Jazz marathon show.
Seamen had spent the early portion of 1953 with Jimmy Walker’s five piece band, then a brief time with Bert Ambrose before returning to Parnell in June, so we do get to hear the pair of drummers on the third tune of our show. Kick Off is from a February 25th 1954 session by the 17-piece ensemble. Phil would leave Parnell in August 1954 to join the Ronnie Scott Orchestra. It was in a session on November 24th 1954 with Scott that Seamen’s Mission, our show-opening tune composed by pianist Victor Feldman with plenty of room left for Phil to fill, was laid down. It is also the title of the 4disc set we use today.
The second track we air is with the Joe Harriott Quartet, Just Goofin’, from March 24th 1955. Alto saxophonist Harriott headed up the first free-Jazz combo in Europe and Seamen remained a close associate over the years. When Phil put together his own quintet in January 1956, it was Harriott on alto along with pianist Johnny Weed, guitarist Dave Goldberg and bassist Stan Wasser. Unfortunately, the group never made it into the studio.
Another musician Seamen was often found in the studio with was Victor Feldman. Feldman was a child prodigy on the drums, making his pro debut when only seven years old but, particularly when Phil was in the band, he was more likely heard playing vibraphones or piano. Phil recorded with Feldman’s bands of varying sizes on several dates. Our fourth tune, Maenya, was done with Victor Feldman’s Big Band on September 21st 1955. Most notable among the fifteen members of the band, along with Feldman and Seamen, are trumpeters Dizzy Reece and Jimmy Deuchar and tenor men Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes. Feldman was a fixture on the British Jazz scene until he defected to America in September 1955, I guess just after this session, to join the Woody Herman band. He did return to London for eight weeks in the winter of 1956 when he spent most of his time either finishing contractual obligations to the Tempo label in the studio or gigging in the clubs.
We follow that up with two tunes from an October 11th 1955 Ronnie Scott Orchestra session, Bang and A Night in Tunisia (Joe Harriott is one of the two altoists in the 16 piece ensemble) as we close out the first set. These were part of a 4-tune EP and the only time Scott tried to put together a big band, which he disassembled after Seamen and trumpeter Dave Usden came to blows onstage at a Hogmanay (I believe a Welsh word similar to a Christmas greeting) show in Morecambe.
Seamen backed trumpeter Dizzy Reece on almost all of his recordings while he resided in London. Reece was born in Jamaica in 1931 and got to Europe in 1948, but it wasn’t until 1954 that he made it to London. We feature Phil with the Dizzy Reece Quintet on Butch, which was cut on May 16th 1955.
While the results of the session on July 6th 1955 came out on the market as by the Joe Harriott Quartet, the ensemble was essentially gigging as Seamen’s quintet except that guitarist Goldberg was not included; Weed was on piano and an American, Major Holley, provided the bass. We hear the two tracks that were released, Blues Original and My Heart Belongs to Daddy. We come back to the Dizzy Reece Quintet from July 7th 1956 to close out the set with Scrapple from the Apple.
Sometime in 1956, Seamen married Leonie Franklin, a dancer who was in the show Jazz Wagon that Phil was drumming for. He was also becoming an asked for studio drummer for hire. Jimmy Deuchar had been one of Parnell’s trumpeters on a 1952 session and, when he got the opportunity to first record his own group in 1953, he brought in Phil and two others from the Parnell Orchestra. Deuchar still wanted Seamen for his March 29th 1957 studio time and from that session we open our third Seamen set with Opus de Funk. Just days after this recording date, Deuchar and two others from the sextet joined the German Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra, but during a break from the band Deuchar engaged Seamen in a session that recorded music from the film Pal Joey which featured actors Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. The notes are a little unclear but, since the movie didn’t come out until 1958 and the Deuchar session was laid down on March 7th 1958, it is altogether possible that this would be the original music from the soundtrack.
The relations between American and British music unions had been contentious in the past but an agreement allowing one for one exchanges of visiting bands finally was reached and, in January 1957, Scott put together a six piece ensemble made up mostly of his former band mates, including Seamen, but as they were boarding the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth at Southampton, Phil was busted for heroin possession and not allowed to leave the country; Allan Ganley was flown to New York as his replacement. Seamen’s defense council understated things when he said the drummer “was slightly addicted to drug taking” and Phil was fined eighty pounds.
For a January 3rd 1957 session, Deuchar teamed up with Feldman in a quintet during the eight weeks Victor was on break from the Herman band and from that session we present to you Wail. Phil spent most of 1957 heading his own group, but also gigged and recorded with Dizzy Reece. There was also a January session with Kenny Graham’s Afro Cubists and he joined Don Rendell’s band in the summer, but by early 1958 he was back with Dizzy Reece. For a period of time in 1958, Phil was in the pit orchestra for the West End production of West Side Story, and it was a regular occurrence that when he was not performing he would nod off, which was put up with by conductor Leonard Bernstein because, after being awakened, his timing was spot on. Until one time when a tapping by the bass man’s bow startled him so much that he jumped off his stool, falling backwards into a large Chinese gong and creating such an audible ruckus that it halted the show. Phil had the wherewithal to clear his throat and humorously state, “Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served”, but still he was terminated in short order.
On October 2nd 1958, the Dizzy Reece Quartet (Phil, Dizzy, tenor saxist Tubby Hayes and bass player Lloyd Thompson) laid down four songs for a soundtrack to the movie Nowhere to Go as the film played in the background, and from that we have chosen The Escape and Chase to wind down our third set. The song features Seamen playing cowbell with a pair of drumsticks as Reece smacks the tom toms with his hands through the first half.
Phil and bassist Kenny Napper are the supporting cast for the pianist\vibraphonist bandleader in the Stan Tracey Trio and we open our fourth Seamen set with Free from a May 22nd 1959 session and Boo Bah recorded four days later. With only three numbers in our show-closing set, we go all the way back to December 17th 1954 to hear the Victor Feldman Modern Jazz Quartet’s Monsoon.
In mid-1959, Phil joined tenor saxists Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes (Hayes also played flute and vibes) in the Jazz Couriers, replacing Bill Eyden and playing beside pianist Terry Shannon and bassist Kenny Napper. Despite the group’s tightness and hard swinging, it was short-lived and disbanded on August 30th 1959. Seamen then signed on with Tubby in his new quartet with Shannon and varying bass players. There are recordings of both of these ensembles included in the collection but I did not consider them because I had already presented some of them in our April 22nd 2015 pre-Jazz Marathon show.
In 1960, Phil was back with the Joe Harriott Quintet. Harriott had been working on his freeform Jazz since the late 50s and, as he explained it, “What we are doing has form … the themes are structural, our approach to it is abstract. We make no use at all of bar lines, and there is no set harmony or use of chords, but there is an interplay of musical form and we do keep a steady form in the rhythm section.”
Phil was backing Georgie Fame in 1962 and played with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated between February and August 1963. From 1964 to 1968, Seamen often had the opportunity to back visiting artists (including a couple of nights behind Dexter Gordon) in his capacity of house drummer for Ronnie Scott’s nightclub. He recorded with Carmen McRae in 1964 and was also regularly a part of Dick Morrissey’s Quartet, the Harry South Big Band, Burt Rhodes’ Orchestra, and Tony Lee’s Trio as well as having a residency for his own trio at the Royal Oak pub in 1969. He also guested in Ginger Baker’s Air Force.
In the 70s, Phil mostly freelanced, including a tour with American trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, while putting his trio into residencies at various London pubs as the situations arose. Phil Seamen passed away on October 13th 1972
Seriously, since you have read this all the way to the endyou have my apologies. Almost everything I have typed out is technical crap. The box set liner notes say Seamen had “a great gift of humour and sharp wit . . . with a larger than life personality” but provide little to back up the statements, and they also say, “There are countless anecdotes still told about Phil Seamen, some comic, some tragic and some apocryphal, most of them a mixture of all three” but fail to repeat any of them. Surely more could have been included about his drug addiction and alcoholism. Anyway, it shouldn’t be difficult to enjoy the music presented today.
*************************Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word. I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access. If you go to our website at KKUP.org you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE. By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile. I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed. As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time. I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening. (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.) Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada. Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
*************************Seamen’s Mission (Ronnie Scott Orchestra)
Just Goofin’ (Joe Harriott Quartet)
Kickoff (Jack Parnell and his Orchestra)
Maenya (Victor Feldman Big Band)
Bang (Ronnie Scott Orchestra)
A Night in Tunisia (A Night in Tunisia)
Phil Seamen 19mins
Good Time BoogieJohn Mayall (Jazz/Blues Fusion)
Don’t Turn Me from Your Door
Savoy Brown (Blue Matter)
Take Your Hands Off Me
Brunning/Hall Sunflower Blues Band
(Bullen Street Blues)
Love is Alive
Joe Cocker (Night Calls)
The Groundhogs (Blues Obituary)
Those About To Die
(Those Who Are About to Die Salute You)
My Heart Belongs to Daddy
Scrapple from the Apple
Phil Seamen 22mins
Waiting on YouFree (Tons of Sobs)
Little Boy Blue
Duffy Power & Dick Heckstall-Smith
(Sky Blues: Rare Radio Sessions)
Twenty Past One
The Climax Chicago Blues Band
(The Climax Chicago Blues Band)
When You Got a Good Friend
The John Dummer Blues Band (Cabal)
Nicky Hopkins with the All Stars
(British Blues Legends)
(The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions)
Ten Years After (Ssssh) 22mins
Opus de FunkWail
The Escape and Chase
Phil Seamen 17mins
Babe I’m Gonna Leave YouLed Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin I)
Got a Tongue in Your Head
(The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions)
I’m Movin’ On
Taste (The Best of Taste)
Think It Over / Too Much to Take
The Keef Hartley Band (Halfbreed)
Don’t Start Me Talkin’
The Climax Chicago Blues Band
(The Climax Chicago Blues Band)
We’re Going Wrong
Jack Bruce (Spirit: Live at the BBC) 25mins
Phil Seamen 18mins