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“As a sideman, making an artist feel happy is important.  I work with a lot of different artists, and I make all these artists feel good – if it’s jazz, if it’s punk, if it’s rock, whatever.  When they’re on stage, they feel good.  They feel like, ‘You’re representing my song…and you’re taking this song to the next level every time we count this song off and we play it.  You’re making my song feel good.’   So, if I can make them feel good by playing a song of theirs, and make them feel like they want to play it, [and] it sounds fresh, then that’s my job.  And I get pleasure out of that.”

One could say that drummer Oscar Seaton is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to being a musician.  He doesn’t come from a musical family; his parents held “regular” 9-5 jobs.  He didn’t grow up listening to the music that his contemporaries listened to.  The music heard in his home was that of the church, where he first began playing at age nine.  “We were raised in a Sanctified church.  We were in church all day, so I was playing almost every day in church.  It was pretty fun.”

Like most drummers, Oscar began by banging on the family cookware at home.  “I was four or five years old.  I would hit pots and pans.  I made a drum set.  I kind of built my set around this big paint container.  I had a snare, a tom, and cymbals.  I didn’t make the high hat because I couldn’t get the high hat thing together.”  When he was five or six, his father bought him his first professional drums – a snare and cymbal, which he played until he was about 10 or 11.

Although Oscar’s early musical training came from the music and musicians he heard in church, he began to branch out musically as he got older.   It was then that he discovered jazz musicians who would heavily influence him, like Miles Davis.  “He’s probably one of my biggest influences.  I always wanted to play in his band.”  Oscar began playing in school and around town, eventually playing with some of the biggest names on the Chicago music scene, including legendary jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, and an upcoming young talent (at the time) named Brian Culbertson.  Oscar also shares a kindred spirit with drummer Omar Hakim and considers him one of his biggest idols.  “That’s one of the guys I listen to.  I just love the way he plays, and, we’re good partners now.”  He also includes drummers Harvey Mason and Steve Gadd in that group, two men whom he counts as his friends.

So, how did he make the transition from being a local musician, playing in church and around town, to being a nationally recognized, in demand player, working with some of the biggest names in music?  The answer is simple.  It’s a combination of talent, a belief in one’s abilities, knowing the job and getting it done, and faith.  These beliefs work well for him and have allowed him to play with many talented musicians.  Besides Ramsey Lewis and Brian Culbertson, Oscar has played and/or recorded with Bruce Hornsby, Boz Scaggs, Lee Ritenour, Don Grusin, Dave Grusin, Michael Lington, David Sanborn,  Kirk Whalum, George Benson, and Lionel Ritchie, just to name a few.

Oscar sees his role as the drummer to “keep pocket.”  When asked to elaborate, he breaks it down. “The role of the drummer is to keep the band together and to keep time. When you’re patting your feet, that’s the time.  That’s the pulse of the music.  And that’s my job, to keep the pulse going.  If a drummer can’t keep the pulse going, then he’s not doing his job.  All the other stuff that you hear, all the fancy stuff, all the fills, that stuff is good, that adds to the shows, but what keeps people on their feet dancing is the pulse.  When a song is going on for 15 minutes and you’re still on your feet dancing, wow, that’s the pocket.”  What he brings to this role, in addition to enormous talent, is a dedication equal to that of any person who chooses a career in service.  “You’re coming to a show, and I’m entertaining you.  I’m taking you away from your everyday life.  For that hour, hour-and-a-half, you’re in my hands.  You’re not thinking about anything else.  When I see the faces of the people, and they’re so in tune, I’m like, oh yeah!  We’re entertainers.  To make the people feel good for that hour-and-a-half before they have to go back to their hectic lives, well, that’s what makes me feel good.” 

When he’s not gigging, he’s practicing. When he’s not practicing, Oscar’s new hobby is working out, which in turn, gives him more energy to play.  His other new hobby, his new passion, is working on movie soundtracks with musician/composer Terrance Blanchard.  To date, he’s worked with Terrance on Inside Man and Waist Deep and several more over the last few months.  Given time and opportunity, this is another outlet of growth and creativity he’d like to pursue.  “I’ve started being a part of this.  Now, I’m starting to go to the theater and watch movies just to see how things are put together.  I’m seeing different scenes and how they fit.  All the stuff we’re playing goes into the plan.  It’s a lot of work, [but] it’s really exciting, and pretty cool.” 

For drummer Oscar Seaton, the ride doesn’t stop.  It’s been that way since he landed in L.A. six years ago, and it will probably keep on going for a long time to come.  “I just ask God to put me in the places that He wants me to be, because that’s what it’s going to end up being.  I mean, He’s the one that makes all this happen, therefore, He knows where I should be.  Wherever He puts me is going to be the right place I need to be, and my career is going to go.” 

In addition to the soundtrack work, Oscar recently finished recording with Lee Ritenour on Lee’s Smoke and Mirrors album.  By the time this article goes live on September 1st, he will have just finished working with George Benson as part of the Benson/Jarreau “Givin’ It Up” tour.  And then there’s the possibility of an Asian tour later in the year with another musician.  In between all of this touring, he’s got some spot work lined up with different musicians, and he is working on an album with his rock band, which he hopes to release soon. 

Look for Oscar in the near future on the road with Lionel Ritchie to support his new album, Coming Home.  Or, just check out who’s in the drummer’s seat at your next c-jazz event, read the liner notes of a couple of your latest CD purchases, or watch the credits roll when the movie ends.  There’s a good chance you’ll find Oscar.

- Mary Bentley
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