Jazz drummer 'poured it out' with the greats

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Edgar Bateman Jr. was a local performer for more than 35 years, and recorded with the likes of Herbie Hancock. He also taught.

Edgar Bateman Jr., 81, of South Philadelphia, a venerated jazz drummer, died of a heart attack Tuesday, May 18, at home.

For more than 35 years, Mr. Bateman performed in area clubs and institutions, including Zanzibar Blue, the Philadelphia Ethical Society, the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and the Painted Bride Art Center, and was a regular at the Mellon and Bell Atlantic Jazz Festivals.

He last played professionally April 29 with the Bobby Zankel Quintet at the American Pub in Center City.

"Edgar still played with fire," said Julian Pressley, the quintet's saxophonist that evening. "He never held anything back. Some older musicians get complacent. He played hard and poured it out."

"He was so strong," Pressley said, "we sometimes had to ask him to play softer."

Pressley began his musical career in 1973 with a jazz ensemble Mr. Bateman led at Trey's Lounge in Philadelphia. "I was playing the baritone sax. Edgar got me interested in the alto sax," Pressley said.

The two musicians jammed every week - including the Thursday before Mr. Bateman's death - at the Clef Club in South Philadelphia.

"He was very artistic and creative," said Pressley. "You could try new things and be innovative."

They often rehearsed numbers that Mr. Bateman composed for sax and drums, "Journey to Life" and "Violet," named for his mother, Pressley said.

A week after Mr. Bateman's death, G-town Radio, an Internet station based in Germantown, featured selections from each of the 12 commercially released albums he appeared on, alongside such players as Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, and Booker Ervin.

Mr. Bateman made his first studio recording in 1961 with vibraphonist Walt Dickerson. His final recording was vibraphonist Khan Jamal's 2009 album, Impressions of Coltrane.

Mr. Bateman coached jazz ensembles and gave clinics and workshops at the nonprofit Clef Club, which promotes and preserves jazz through performances, education, and cultural services. He also taught drums to private students and conducted master classes at Temple University.

Mr. Bateman grew up in St. Louis. Because rheumatic fever had damaged his heart, he was not allowed strenuous activity. His sister, who was in a drum corps, brought some drumsticks home and showed him some beats on an oatmeal box. Eventually his mother allowed him to join the drum corps, too.

"We would be in parades and I would hear other drum corps, and I could pick up their beats." Mr. Bateman told a reporter for All About Jazz magazine in 2005. He would teach the beats to his group even though he couldn't read music.

As a young man, Mr. Bateman lived and worked as a musician in Indianapolis, New York City, and Europe.

He came to Philadelphia, where his mother was living to recuperate from an illness, and stayed. Mr. Bateman, who had a son from a previous relationship, had two children with Elizabeth Casey after moving to Philadelphia. He got serious about his musical training because he had to support a family, his son Edgar III said.

Mr. Bateman told All About Jazz: "I found a great teacher in Philadelphia, Bernie Morgan, who helped me with composition."

Morgan, who scored two Hollywood films and did arrangements for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Pops, charged him $5 a lesson. Mr. Bateman later earned an associate degree from Community College of Philadelphia and a bachelor's degree in music composition from Rutgers University.

Mr. Bateman was very health-conscious, his son said. He didn't smoke or drink, watched what he ate, took vitamin supplements, and worked out regularly.

In addition to his son, Mr. Bateman is survived by another son, Aaron; a daughter, Elizabeth; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service and celebration of his life will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 5, at Pentecostal Bridegroom Temple, 6425 Wister St.

Memorial donations may be made to the Jazz Bridge Project, which assists musicians in need, 3008 Limekiln Pike, Glenside, Pa. 19038.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.