Ginger Baker’s Contemporaries

Jon Hiseman

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The Technician

Jon Hiseman would be largely unknown quantity to Americans. His fame resides in Europe as he only managed a couple of brief tours of the US in the early ‘70s. For Americans his most prominent appearances were on John Mayall’s ‘Bare Wires’ and Jack Bruce’s classic ‘Songs for a Tailor’.

Jon is a jazz drummer through and through who, like Baker, found the UK jazz scene to be too restrictive. In 1966 he moved into R&B replacing Ginger in the Grahame Bond organisation. As it was a trio, he adopted Ginger’s double kit format to augment the bottom end. He could maintain the back beat while adding those jazz fills.

Grahame’s drug problems drove Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith into John Mayall’s Bluesbreaker’s when John changed to a more jazz inflected style. That was short lived as they, and the bassist Tony Reeves, found Mayall’s concept too restrictive and they formed Colosseum. Colosseum was one of the very early Jazz/Rock fusion bands. They were a well balanced band of excellent and experienced muscicians. They evolved into a more hard rock format when David ‘Clem’ Clempson and Chris Farlowe joined. They remain highly regarded in Europe if largely unrecognised in the USA.

hiseman1.jpg (23209 bytes) Ludwig was the preferred kit initially but he obtained a sponsorship with a new UK manufacturer, Hayman who went broke in the 1970’s. This config was a classic double kit: 14x5 " snare, 2 x 24" bass, 12x8" & 13x9" top toms, 14x14" & 16x16" floor toms. Cymbals: 14" hi hat, and an array of up to 6 cymbals. He used light sticks, the military grip on the left hand and sat high and erect. As with Mitch, the military grip did not impact on his tom playing as he adjusted with ease to matched grip. He was physically powerful but had the advantage of playing the best part of his rock career with miking and as such did not have to physically match the volume of the electric instruments.

In a 1970 survey of preferred drummers, Jon stated his three rankings as "Elvin Jones, Elvin Jones, Elvin Jones". Of the drummers under analysis here, Jon is technically the best. He has the full range of rudiments, is balanced quadrapedal, precise, very fast, and explosive when required. His emphasis is on the hi-hat/snare/bass/ride cymbal but with effortless excursions onto the toms and 2nd bass drum insertions. It is more be-bop style with less emphasis on the tom patterns, and more on the ride cymbals then Baker. He unhesitatingly used brushes when appropriate.

As a soloist he was devastating: playing at fearsome tempos over the full kit. The solos were comparatively short by Bakers standards (typically 8-10 min) and musical as he created …"a bubbling thickness of sound and layers of patterns" (Hiseman). Around this era the most comparable drummer, in technical terms and speed, was Billy Cobham.

A criticism of Hiseman is that at times he was too technical and failed to swing or provide a groove ("a bit of a metronome at times" I said of him in the early ‘70’s). Again, in the Colosseum environment that was not a real limitation. It was a flaw he later corrected after …"I heard StevieWonder playing the drums on his own albums ‘Talking Book’ and ‘Inner Visions’…I played and re-played tracks…marvelling at the same effortless, instinctive simplicity of the beat – the suggested cross rhythms, implied rather then played – the wide-open gaping seams between movements round the kit and of course the overdub techniques; layers of drum kit not technically perfectly enmeshed but adding a sense of glorious brinkmanship that is the hallmark of all great rhythm artists."

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Mark Clarke on Bass (& no need to say who influenced him)

Jon Hiseman and Ginger Baker both adjusted their styles, absorbing new influences. For Baker it was the African rhythms, for Hiseman soul/funk. Both melded it together to become more balanced and concise players while retaining there style and able to provide driving propulsion. Jon Hiseman continues to play in an array of musical environments: composed and improvisational jazz with his wife Barbara Thompson, jazz/rock with an occasionally reformed Colosseum (& still playing great!), TV music/advertising jingles and all through his own production company.

An intelligent highly skillful drummer whose technical ability stuns as much as it impresses. For rock players he was too much of a jazz player and thus of little influence in those times, and these. In the ‘60s & early ‘70’s he was one of Britain’s and therefore the worlds great rock drummers but changing musical tastes left him stranded. Like Baker he responded by returning to his first love – jazz and carving out a rewarding life.

Greatest Moments: "Those About to Die", "The Kettle", "Walking in the Park" (Live), "Lost Angeles" and ‘Colosseum: the Reunion Concerts 1994’ – magnificent thoughout.

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Clem Clempson & Dick Heckstall-Smith

Graeme Pattingale 1999