Pianist John Crawford remembers drummer Simon Pearson, who died on 3 September at the age of 54 after a short illness.
Last Monday 4th September was, I can state without fear of contradiction, An unforgettable and bittersweet day for me, with a strong emphasis on the bitter side. At 10.40am I received from my record label, the beautiful design proofs for my forthcoming album, and forty minutes later, another email arrived, from Sally, the wife of drummer Simon Pearson – whose beautiful drumming is heavily featured on this album. She told me that he had passed away from a rapid cancer the day before. I remember just staring at this email in utter disbelief, as though my mind simply would not accept what it had just read. I couldn’t believe that Simon, the warm hearted, genuine, gentle and wonderful drummer who had played in my Quintet for the last ten years, was gone.
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Simon Pearson was, if you spoke to any musician who had the joy of performing with him, a drummer of very rare qualities, which combined together marked him as a one-off: an astonishing technique which allowed him to make the most difficult of pieces sound easy, and an ability to sight-read almost any song and play it like he had known it for years. Members of Issie Barratt’s Big Band at Trinity College will attest to this: he basically sight read “Brayards Road”- which changes time signature EVERY bar – perfectly without any hesitation AND made it sound natural. His drum solos when required or requested- he didn’t seem eager to do these in my experience with him (another rare quality in a drummer of such virtuosity) – were of course astounding, and musically interesting, not just demonstrations of chops played at breakneck speed.
In 2017 a promoter from Cyprus asked my Quintet to participate in a new Jazz Festival near Paphos, and I remember that I personally wasn’t at my best: my daughter Maite having been born four weeks earlier, I was groggy and sleep deprived- I secretly hoped that the other members would make up for my lack of energy. Simon at that festival played some of the most beautiful drumming I have ever heard, and the Cypriot audience loved every solo he did- truly stealing the show, and rightfully so.
Lastly – and I suppose that this is the most important quality for all drummers- his groove, and his swing. Again, in this respect I think he was unique- every groove was played with a beautiful, understated subtlety which made him so in demand after he graduated from the Guildhall from the Jazz Postgraduate course. This subtlety and sensitivity in his playing drew attention from musicians outside the Jazz scene, with groups like The Wedding Present, Steve Martland, Cinerama, and Goya’s Dress all seeking his very personal style of drumming.
Then of course there was his personality- in all his 54 years he never lost the warmth, generosity, and friendly nature that made him so beloved by everyone who had the good fortune to work with him. From the comments on my Facebook post about him last Monday, I could see that many people, including some who hadn’t seen him in years, held him in the highest esteem as a musician and a human being.
This remarkable man clearly left an indelible mark on pretty much everyone who he met- as Terry de Castro put it on her own post about him: “Everyone who met him fell for him”.
Mike Kearsey also says: “More than this though he was such a warm and kind guy and I can still hear his laugh even though we lost touch in recent years”
Farewell dear friend, and Rest in Peace.
Simon Richard Pearson. Born Leeds, 26 August 1969. Died London, 3 September 2023.