At 3.55 a.m. on June 12, British drummer/composer/ bandleader Jon Hiseman passed away as a result of complications following surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Born Philip John Albert Hiseman on June 21, 1944 in Woolwich, South-East London to parents Lily Catherine and Philip William Hiseman, Jon initially took lessons on piano and violin but both were short-lived as Jon disliked the formality of grade lessons and had no violin to practice on. Developing an interest in Skiffle music and rock ‘n’ roll, Jon requested a drum kit from his parents, but money was tight, so Jon’s father set about building a kit from a washboard, a paint tin and a Boy’s Brigade cymbal. With his custom drum kit, Jon remained self-taught, playing along to an eclectic mix of whatever he heard on the radio, eventually graduating to a real snare drum and cymbals.
While still at school, he met [keyboardist] Dave Greenslade and soon became a member of The Dave Greenslade Trio. Upon leaving school, Jon worked a day job at Unilever and later Television Audience Management, continuing to play and record with a number of jazz groups including The New Jazz Orchestra (where he met his future wife, saxophonist Barbara Thompson), Mike Taylor, Pete Lemer Quintet and Howard Riley. When organist Graham Bond heard Jon at a NJO rehearsal, he vowed that if his current drummer, Ginger Baker, left his group, The Graham Bond Organisation, then Jon would be his replacement. When Baker subsequently left to form Cream, this came to pass, and Jon remained with Bond for about a year, before leaving to join Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames in 1967. On July 29 that same year, Jon and Barbara were married, but Fame’s chart success led to the demise of his group and Jon returned to freelancing, including playing on Arthur Brown’s hit single “Fire.” When Keef Hartley left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Jon was sought as the replacement, recording the album Bare Wires with Mayall in April 1968, before recording Jack Bruce’s Things We Like in August 1968. He also shared drumming duties with John Marshall on Bruce’s classic Songs For A Tailor, which although recorded later, was released as Bruce’s solo debut. Having gained a reputation and much experience, Jon decided to form his own band, and in 1969, Colosseum’s debut, Those Who Are About To Die Salute You, was released. The band toured extensively, subsequently releasing Valentyne Suite, The Grass Is Greener, Daughter Of Time and Colosseum Live before disbanding in 1971.
Having led his own group, Hiseman subsequently appeared as a sideman less often, forming the groups Tempest [‘73-‘74], featuring guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Ollie Halsall, and Colosseum II [‘75-‘78], featuring the then-lesser-known Gary Moore, who delivered some of the finest jazz fusion to emanate from the UK. When composer Andrew Lloyd Webber heard Colosseum II’s Electric Savage, he swiftly sought Hiseman and enlisted the band (augmented by Barbara Thompson) to record Variations with his brother, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. This musical relationship with Andrew continued for several years, with the group (minus Gary Moore) also recording Tell Me On A Sunday and Cats. Additionally, Hiseman and Thompson were also founding members of the United Jazz & Rock Ensemble, a European big band, which released 14 albums between 1974 and 2002. In late 1977, Jon and Barbara moved to a new South London home and in 1982 Jon set up a recording studio, allowing them both to record their own music without interference from record companies.
In 1979, Jon joined Barbara’s group Paraphernalia, remaining a fixture in the group until it ceased performing in 2005, owing to Barbara’s ill health with Parkinson’s disease. Between 1994 and 2015, Colosseum also reconvened for several tours and albums, including Tomorrow’s Blues and Time On Our Side, with the group’s final concert taking place at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on February 28, 2015.
Jon’s reputation as a fine soloist was earned early in his career and in 1986 he released About Time Too!–an album of drum solos culled from live shows by The United Jazz & Rock Ensemble and Paraphernalia. Initially released on vinyl, the 1991 CD reissue contained an additional 15-minute solo.
Jon’s fascinating biography, Playing The Band, written by Martyn Hanson and edited by original Colosseum manager Colin Richardson, was published in 2010 but there was still more to come in the Hiseman story. Jon continued to run his Temple Music recording studio, recording yetto-be-released albums with his daughter Ana Gracey and Soft Machine Legacy, embarking upon a sizeable project to archive a multitude of radio and unreleased studio sessions that he had played on and had also been actively involved as a mentor for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra for many years. He also provided daily care and support to Barbara, as witnessed on the BBC Documentary Barbara Thompson: Playing Against Time.
In March 2017, Jon was due to reunite for a concert with guitarist Larry Coryell but Coryell passed away just a week prior to the date. Two months later, Allan Holdsworth also passed away, leading Jon to reflect on the fact that several of his musical colleagues–Jack Bruce, Gary Moore, John Mole, Graham Bond, Mike Taylor, Ollie Halsall and Dick Heckstall-Smith–were no longer with us. This led to his most recent outfit, JCM, a trio with ex-Colosseum band mates Mark Clarke and Clem Clempson, to celebrate the memory of those who had passed. In Jon’s words, “Gradually, it occurred to me that I should try to make an album featuring the songs and instrumentals that I associate with; the music that stayed in my mind all these years.” The resulting album, Heroes, was released in March 2018 and the trio embarked upon a European tour to promote the album. However, after a show in Bonn on April 22, Jon felt unwell and, upon examination, received his diagnosis.
These musical achievements alone are remarkable but those who had the privilege of meeting or knowing Jon, unanimously agree that the man himself was even greater than the drummer. When news of his illness was disclosed, the outpourings of love and support on social media mentioned his musical abilities and his human qualities in equal measure, with many remarking how open, kind and friendly he had been to them.
Jon achieved success at whatever he turned his hand to, whether it was drumming, studio engineering, studio maintenance, video editing, publishing or computer programming–though he was self-taught in all of them, preferring to simply observe others and/or jump in and figure things out for himself, asking questions where and when necessary.
He was a man of great humor, knowledge, foresight and integrity; humble, warm, intelligent, passionate and inspiring. Truly, one of the greats.