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Edgar Bateman

1929 - 5/18/10

Edgar Bateman was the greatest drummer I ever heard, and was equally extraordinary as a human being. He had great nobility of spirit. He was extremely focused and disciplined. He never drank, smoked, got high or used profanity. He was an excellent boxer in his youth (once having sparred with Ali when he was still Cassius Clay, and held his own). He maintained incredible physical strength, fitness and stamina throughout his life, studying Karate and doing 400 push ups a day well into his 70’s. He was curious, open minded, kind, humble, deeply spiritual and always eager to study, learn and grow. He loved women, yet was always respectful and never dogged them as many men (and musicians) do. He loved to laugh, and had a wicked, sly, deadpan sense of humor. Often 2 or 3 seconds would elapse before you realized he had zapped you. He exhibited perseverance, optimism, positivity, good humor and grace throughout what could certainly be described as a very difficult life. He was my first and greatest inspiration as a drummer and person. I loved him like a father.

It was the early 60’s and I was a teenager when I first heard and met Edger Bateman. Makanda Ken McIntyre, the gifted composer, multi woodwind player who was a family friend invited me to a Sunday matinée at the old Five Spot to hear his group. I had no idea that day would change my life so profoundly. It was never my way when seeing a band play, to sit near the drummer as many young drummers do. I always preferred to stand in the back center so as to have an overview of the whole band and also so I could make a graceful exit if I wasn’t into the music. However, after hearing Edgar, within 5 minutes I had moved to a seat very near to the drums. I remember vividly, being amazed, mesmerized, flabbergasted, stunned and blown away by what I was hearing. I clearly recall thinking, “Wow, this is the greatest drummer I’ve ever heard”, and it’s not like I hadn’t heard other great drummers, having grown up in the same building as Max Roach, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones. After the set I introduced myself, told Edgar how moved I was by his playing and made him promise to call me whenever he had a gig and I would be there, and so began an over 40 year relationship of trust, faith, appreciation, respect, brotherhood and love.

I have so many great memories of Edgar, way too many to recount for the space limitations of this essay. Going to the gym and watching Edgar skip rope and work the speed bag (what incredible rhythms he created). Hanging out in the kitchen of my folks house, eating, talking and laughing. Both my parents loved Edgar, he was so gracious and charming. Going to his loft on West 28th St. to watch a rehearsal with his band which included a young Joe Henderson, Alan Shorter (Wayne’s brother) and Lonnie Liston Smith. They played one my compositions (my first) and seemed to like it because they played it for about 20 minutes. What a thrill and validation for a 15 year old to hear these great musicians play my tune and how kind of Edgar to include me in that experience. Later Edgar asked me to sublet this loft while he went to Europe for a few months. The few months turned out to be several years and eventually I had to give up the loft but I had some great times there living and jamming in Edgar’s space. Wonderful musicians like pianist Elmo Hope (another mentor of mine) would come by to play and I used to love walking by the many middle eastern clubs in that neighborhood, listening to the music and watching the belly dancers. I went to just about all of Edgar’s gigs and they ran the gamut from lofts to dive bars to strip clubs etc. One of the most memorable ones was at the Half Note with Eric Dolphy, Lee Morgan, Bobby Hutcherson and Reggie Workman. The absence of a piano seemed to leave more space and Edgar filled it so creatively and organically. I also saw him play with Sonny Rollins, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and many other great players.

How can I describe his playing to those who never heard him? Edgar played time at a place where time creates space. His sense of swing was so profound as to be absolutely free, totally non-mechanical and as spontaneous and natural as the flight of a butterfly. He had worked out some supremely difficult independence, often sounding like several drummers at once, yet never used this ability to show off. He remained absolutely committed to the total creativity of the moment. Unlike most great drummers, he had no “licks” and I never heard him play the same thing twice. His stroke and motion was so loose, relaxed and graceful, it seemed to defy gravity. Watching him play with brushes reminded me of a swan on a lake.

One of my regrets is that very little of Edgar Batemans greatness is represented on recordings and some of the best examples of his playing are on albums that are quite obscure and difficult to find. So, in August of 2006 I brought Edgar to my house in Quincy where we did two days of recording. The first day, were drum duets with lots of Edgar solos, and the second day we added horns including Jerry Bergonzi, Jason Palmer, Stan Strickland and young bassist Justin Purtill, playing off some of my crazy melodies. What a joy and blessing to have spent those days with my hero, Edgar Bateman making such powerful, intense and unique music together. When it comes out (in the near future I hope) it will be a double CD entitled Creative Infinity and Love Eternal. Thank you, Edgar for a lifetime of inspiration.

Originally Published