Sean Noonan challenges jazz, punk, rock, African sounds, Irish folklore and electronic fusion mixing it with his drums playing and his voice while telling astounding stories. Legends, tales and myths collected during his travels around the world that he turns into unique and transgressive musical pieces. Now, after recording 19 albums and performing on hundreds stages of more than a dozen countries, Sean Noonan presents to us his lastest work "Memorable Sticks". This album narrates mysterious legends from Polish and South African traditions to the rhythm of jazz performed by Pavees Electronic Trio
The ghosts of "Memorable Sticks"
In "Memorable Sticks", or "Wiekopomna Laska" in Polish, Sean Noonan surprises us again with his originality. At the while he is playing drums, he is telling us the legend of a magic stick. A story that he found on one of his trips to Wielicka salt mines area, in Poland. "Wiekopomna Laska is a symbol of power. The master of the miners has this magic stick. When he places it on the walls of the mine, the stick brings back to the present sounds from the past: conversations, songs, horses steps... The stick is used to wake up the protective spirits of the mine" Sean tells us.
Among the underground ghosts of the “Memorable Stick”, there is a song to “Skarbnik”, a spirit who guides and protects miners in searching for "Hidden Treasures". Another ghost wanders around the mine tunnels; she is the specter of a young girl called "White Lady Bieliczka". "This ghost falls in love with one of the miners and she wants to return to life and becomes human. To do this, she needs someone to help her and take her to the surface". Sean explains to us while he keeps digging deeper until he arrives to South African lands. There he gets inspired and offers musical pieces like "Nangadef", a praise song dedicated to Shaka, the great Zulu King.
Sean on drums, Jhonny Richards on piano, and Michael Bardon on bass are "Pavees Electric Trio". Their electric epic sounds create the atmosphere for this world of fascinating stories. "Memorable Sticks music is influenced by Polish composers and New York jazz. In this album I play with a pianist, something that I didn't do since my beginnings. This is jazz and quite acoustic sounds" Sean clarifies.
The Drummer: from the Muppets Show to Punk
"Memorable Sticks" is just a sample of the numerous and diverse projects that Sean has in his mind. These projects are the culminations of a career that began watching the Muppets Show on television. "When I was 8 years old I met Animal, the Muppets drummer, and I loved him. He was my first inspiration. With 10 year old, I was already playing drums. After I graduated, I went to Boston Music School. My family didn´t support me too much, but I convinced them and I started to study music more seriously" Sean remembered.
During his college years he also worked in a musical theater in Florida. Years later, this experience would gain more sense. "For half a year I worked in a theatre. There I learnt how to perform onstage, how entertaining the audience and I lost my stage fright. Things that helped me lot later on when I decided to tell stories in my performances". After, Sean went to New York where he created his first punk-jazz ' The Hoobs´. "It was at the end of my studies when I met the guys, in 1999. We wanted to create our own original music. At that time I was not composing music, I was more focused on the drums. But it was then when I began to consider composing".
The Composer: an accident was the Salvation
After 4 years with ´The Hoob´, during which ones he also played in an eclectic duo with the guitarist Aram Bajakian, Sean suffered a serious car accident in Italy that changed his life. "I remember when I was in a coma, I saw a man who told me that he had not finished with me, that I had to return. So when I woke up I realized that I had a second chance to really enjoy life, and I decided to not worry and stress up too much as I was doing before. Music was my salvation. In fact, I have a song called 'Salvation´”.
It was then when Sean musical career took a turn. "I began to hear music in my head, many types of sounds and that made me realize that I had to study composition. I stopped playing jazz and drums completely and I really focused on doing a Master in composition at Queens University. I wanted to know what classical composers were thinking when they were writing their pieces. So I studied the classic: Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky... I didn't want to make classical music, but I wanted to get a more sophisticated sound in my compositions".
Meeting the roots and challenging fusion
Around this time, in 2005, Sean received an award from the American Composers Forum for his work "Wandering Folk Theory". This music theory consists in reinterpreting the traditional cultural folklore from a modern perspective. This idea pushed Sean to travel in search of those musical roots. "I wanted to develop this concept, so I went to Mali, Africa. There people perform for the King, they play at funerals and at noble people birthdays. Through this experience I could understand better how this musical folklore is passed orally from generation to generation since hundreds of years ago. What I wanted was to borrow some musical folklore aspects and do something new with them. So I started to collect music from all around the world. I collected lullabies from Indonesia, Russia and many other places. I wanted to know all about lullabies, especially about those ones which are not in the mainstream, I wanted to rescue them before they get forgotten or lost".
Sean gathered artists from different nationalities and musical styles to carry out this project. In spite of the difficulty to harmonize such diversity and disparate personalities, he was able to bring out the best of them. "There was a Jew guitarist, another Armenian, an Irish singer, musicians from Senegal, Guinea, Mali, a bass guitar from Philadelphia... Sometimes make them play together, and guide them to get the musical pieces that I was proposing was quite complicated. There was resistance, this is what happens when you get people out of their element, and you try to open their minds to different concepts. But my goal was to make something new, original, something that had never heard before. Finally we got it through a collaborative effort that I called `communal creation´. I think music is something that brings people together, is a tool of expression".
The result of this travel culminated in a project named "Brew by Noon", which gave birth to five different albums between 2006 and 2011. "The name of this project hides a philosophical concept. This is like if I were a chef and I were adding different ingredients, making something unique and special. The ingredients are West African and Celtic stories, jazz, punk, rock and drums. Celtic because my family comes from Ireland and this is also part of my origins, and the other music mixes because I am a New York American, this is where I come from, my roots as a musician".
From the storyteller to the String Quarter
"After this project I realized that I had created a monster because I couldn´t go on a tour with all those musicians. Although we did a tour in different countries, it was very difficult to organize it, some musician didn´t have visa, and others could simply not go on certain dates. Then, I thought that I could tell all these stories for myself". That was how Sean discovered a new way to make the audience travel to other places, worlds, and dimensions. However, the beginning was not easy. "At first, I felt very insecure, I didn´t know how to do it because the voice is another instrument. But I could remember my experience in the musical theater, how the director made me read monologues, dress up like a woman or dance on stage, and how comfortable I was feeling performing. This helped me a lot, although I had to create my own style".
After his first work as a storyteller, drummer, and composer on his album "Set the Hammer Free", part of "Brew by Noon", Sean decided to focus on other projects. "I wanted to concentrate on writing music and that was how I started with the String Quartet project. The idea was to make something new. On the drums you have four different percussion sounds that you can play independently with your two arms and two legs. On the string quarter there are also four voices, there are the cello, the viola and the violins. So what I wanted was to articulate the quarter as an extension of the drums. But you have to be very careful in intonation and articulation. The quarter is like a living organism, when you listen to them they are not four musicians, they are one person. That was my goal".
Once again Sean managed to astonish the audience with his album "A Gambler´s Hand", where the String Quarter merges with the drums to go along with the storytelling. The strings would appear in another of his albums "In the Ring", part of a trilogy that contains a solo drum in "Bruise by Noon", and jazz, funk and punk fusion in "There´s Always the Night". These are just a few examples of a work in progress where anything can happen. A career filled with innovative initiatives, musical experimentation and fusion, encounters and artistic collaborations, travels and discoveries, folklores and traditions searching, and above all with plenty of originality and authenticity. As Sean says, "I am like a chef who cooks from the heart for you enjoy a meal with soul".
Lear more about Sean Noonan in his official website