Clinic Review: Jon Hiseman at Planet Drum

An Audience With A Master


© Ray McMahon/Corbis

Having spent a lifetime playing music in just about every conceivable context, it was no great surprise to discover that Jon Hiseman has plenty of stories to tell. His CV includes names like Jack Bruce, Gary Moore and his pioneering jazz-fusion group Colosseum.

Jon kicked off the event at Planet Drum with a burst on the drums before inviting members of the audience to come and play, which was an intimidating experience. One brave soul had only been playing for two months but still gave it a bash.

On the technical side, Jon has some unique and distinctive ideas that contradict much accepted wisdom. He does not believe in using the bounce, but prefers to make every stroke happen himself. He went into great detail about the importance of dynamics and demonstrated a favourite exercise from his youth for developing a clear distinction between loud and soft strokes using paradiddles.

In another example of Jon's singular approach, he does not believe that drummers are musicians, but maintains that the drummer's role is a special one. His goal, as succinctly encapsulated by the title of his biography, is to focus on playing the band. If you're backing up a singer, play the singer. It's no good sitting at the back busting chops with the bass player – they're not the one who will call you back for the next performance. Similarly, Jon thinks that spending hours drilling your rudiments until you can play at supersonic speeds is pointless, because no one is ever going to ask you to do that on a gig. Once you can play a pattern fast enough, well then, that's enough. Move on.

Jon recounted how it was once standard practice to play an outdoor festival with nothing but an overhead mic on the kit. The power and commitment needed to reach a crowd in that situation speaks to Jon's ability and power. The solo that he played to wrap up the afternoon was thrilling (but best not to say it was 'musical' as he hates that label).

The stories were a treat. He has enjoyed a long collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber and when Jon was playing on a TV special with Webber, the composer was asked to conduct the orchestra live on air. With absolutely no experience conducting, Webber walked over to Jon and said quietly, "I'll follow you, old boy."


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