Pedro Segundo – one-man band

on Sep 3, 2019 in Now Boarding | No Comments

Pedro Segundo is a drummer and percussionist, but his seemingly untiring energy on stage indicates he’s much more than that. He’s one of the most international and successful drummers in the world of jazz, who lives between London, Lisbon and Los Angeles and travels across the globe.

First, it was glasses and plates. Pedro Segundo must have been about four when he started trying out the different sounds cutlery made on the objects around him at mealtimes. He says he broke as much crockery then as plastic drum sets later – something he received every Christmas from his uncle, João Paulo Segundo (that’s right, just like the Portuguese name for the former Pope). In between, he even kept himself entertained with a kind of “coat-and-plant-stand” they had in the house, which he’d take into his room… it was perfect for playing along to Queen’s Greatest Hits album, which his father had bought him at the Ibérico superstore, near where they lived in Carnide, Lisbon.

That’s why no-one was surprised when, aged eight, he insisted on switching from the organ classes he was enrolled in to study the drums. Even though they told him he wasn’t tall enough, that he couldn’t reach the pedals, Pedro was determined. Four years before the recommended age, he joined the Valentim de Carvalho Music School in Benfica, and never looked back. Today, aged 31, he’s one of the most international and successful drummers and percussionists in the world of jazz. His C.V. includes dozens of collaborations with Portuguese and foreign musicians, such as Judith Owen, Ross Stanley or Júlio Resende, as well as with the London band he helped to form, Kansas Smitty’s House Band. You just have to see him on stage to realise why: surrounded by an array of cymbals, bombos, snare drums, tom-toms, bells, clappers, shakers, tambourines, zills, rattles and many more, Pedro Segundo switches seamlessly from one instrument to the next, as if they were all one and the same. He uses drumsticks and brushes, plays with his hands, dances, laughs, smiles, pulls faces of delight, gets laughs from the audience and lots of applause. He’s all jam, all party.

“I like to play as if it were the last concert of my life,” he says with a huge grin. “It’s hard work, I give it my all, but that’s what I love. I feel great joy in making music and being able to share it with others. It’s a celebration for me. And I’m lucky, I’m grateful for those who choose to be here and listen to me.” From London, where’s he’s lived since 2007, he’s played all over the world. He’s appeared several times in Lisbon (he visits often to keep homesickness at bay), and debuted in his own name there this year with the project Segundo Stanley Hammond Organ Duo, at the Belém Cultural Centre. Over the last few years, he’s also been crossing the Atlantic regularly, not only because his girlfriend, the American actress Bellamy Young, is on the other side (we saw her recently in the TV series Scandal), but because he always accompanies Judith Owen, resident in New Orleans, in her concerts.

 

In the heart of it all

When you listen to him talking about his music today, you can see the same determination that took him to drum lessons at the age of eight and at nine to percus – sion lessons at the Lisbon Conservatory of Music. It was around then that he started to play at the church the family went to, just like his sister Carolina, four years his senior. “My parents didn’t have any connection to music, but they were sensitive to what we liked and always supported us. There was a great-grandfather who played the violin, but he was the only known mu – sician in the family. I don’t think my mum even claps her hands in time to the beat [he laughs]… And then I was lucky enough to have drums at church! I ended up finding an interesting repertoire there, which gave me a good grounding and got me used to playing in public from an early age.”

At the age of ten he was appearing on a weekly Portuguese television show, Pequenos e Terríveis, which starred children. Pedro was the kid behind the drums of the resident band. “I soon learnt to deal with my ego there,” he recalls. “To be in music, you need to have your head screwed on right, and that experience showed me how easy it is to stray off course. I missed some classes because of recordings and people knew me because I was on TV: it could have got out of control…” What kept him on track was his faith in the path he’d chosen and he continued to notch up new experiences. A summer course in Barcelona broadened his horizons. “I wanted to study jazz and Cuban music and I learnt a lot there. When I said my name was Pedro Segundo (Pedro Second), they’d reply: ‘No, you’re Pedro 15!’, because no-one believed I was only that age and could already play like that.”

On his return to Lisbon, he started going to jam sessions at the Hot Clube de Portugal, the most iconic jazz haunt in the city. “I was still underage; my father would go with me and stay there all night, poor thing…” He was invited to play at Speakeasy and Onda Jazz, two clubs that have closed down in the meantime, and met lots of other musicians. He was a guest performer with the Gulbenkian Orchestra, and at one of the annual jazz festivals organised by the São Luiz Theatre in Lisbon, he won a revelation award. “All that gave me a great grounding and was fundamental when I arrived in England.”

On his return to Lisbon, he started going to jam sessions at the Hot Clube de Portugal, the most iconic jazz haunt in the city. “I was still underage; my father would go with me and stay there all night, poor thing…” He was invited to play at Speakeasy and Onda Jazz, two clubs that have closed down in the meantime, and met lots of other musicians. He was a guest performer with the Gulbenkian Orchestra, and at one of the annual jazz festivals organised by the São Luiz Theatre in Lisbon, he won a revelation award. “All that gave me a great grounding and was fundamental when I arrived in England.”

Too late to enrol in the jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London, he signed up for a percussion course. “It turned out really well because I continued my classical training and, at night, I’d go to the city’s jazz clubs,” says Pedro Segundo, who soon began to frequent the legendary Ronnie Scott’s. “In those years, I’d attend classes during the day and then all I wanted to do was play and see concerts. When I was invited to be resident drummer of the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, I’d work seven straight nights a week and stay there to see the concerts afterwards. I didn’t sleep much, but I was happy.”

He was just over 20 and was in the centre of the world, “at the heart of it all”, he acknowledges. He was in the band of the Cape Verdean singer Carmen Souza, with whom he travelled to several countries, he accompanied the Portuguese fado singer, Carminho, in London, began to play his own compositions, founded and played in jazz groups, did countless shows and tours with orchestras and musicians he already knew and was getting to know. “Music lives a lot through friendships, through connections and the close ties we form. Being at home waiting for the phone to ring doesn’t exist…” It was at Ronnie Scott’s that he was introduced to the Welsh singer Judith Owen, when she was looking for a “different drummer”, who didn’t make a lot of noise. For the last six years, the singer hasn’t wanted anyone else.

 

Outside the box

Press reviews have praised his energy and likeability on stage, his precision and technique, but also the craftsmanship of the music he creates. Pedro Segundo sees himself and his instruments as a painter surrounded by colours, or a pianist before lots of different keys. “I always like to have several options, so I can use them or not. I’m guided by the colour or texture, by the experience or musicality…” In 2015 he made his solo debut with an album and concerts Solo Segundo, which reflected his influences in the world of percussion, from traditional Indian and African sounds to Iánnis Xenákis and John Cage or young composers. “Imagine Stomp with just one performer,” reads the light-hearted description on the record. It’s a work that reflects how he’s grown as a Portuguese musician that’s almost been around the world. “For me, travelling is essential, just like going back to Lisbon, the city where I grew up and was a sponge for all kinds of stimuli, the city where the sun gets into our skin and changes our atoms,” he declares.

Pedro’s never thought about being anything other than a drummer. Not even when they tell him he gives the best massages … “When I was studying marimba, I’d practise by massaging my mum and sister’s backs. And I love doing it; on the tours, I usually massage the other musicians. My hands really are my vehicle of expression… that’s why I say that one day I’ll take a sabbatical and do a physiotherapy course,” he jokes. In the meantime, he tries out everything he can with his drums and his percussion instruments, from jazz to classical or any genre he feels like. He likes to feel “outside the box” and promises that one day he’ll make music for cinema – we can hear him already on the soundtrack of Vice, the 2018 Adam McKay film about the vice-president of the USA, Dick Cheney.

The secret of success? Pedro Segundo answers with a laugh and a pun on his surname: “I never have the pressure of being the first!”

pedrosegundo.com

 

by Gabriela Lourenço /// photo Kevin Albinder

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