Sean Noonan: The Rhythmic Storyteller

Sean Noonan is a speaking drummer and composer whose innovative music defies categorization. Embracing the title "rhythmic storyteller," Noonan crafts imaginative narratives akin to modern-day sonic griots, blending the ancient tradition of wandering minstrels with contemporary musical forms. His distinctive approach integrates voice and percussion into a cohesive polyrhythmic language, creating what he describes as a "fifth limb" that extends the traditional boundaries of drumming and narration.

Noonan's work is a novel fusion of voice and percussion, merging elements of new music, free improvisation, and rhythmic storytelling. His compositions transcend conventional musical boundaries, demonstrating a seamless convergence of improvisational and compositional techniques. By treating ensembles as extensions of the drum kit, Noonan orchestrates a rhythmic language that integrates these ensembles as fluid components of his musical expression. This innovative approach reflects his experiences and perspectives from behind the drum set, where he views ensembles as integral extensions of the drummer's voice.

One of Noonan's most notable works yet to be released is "Drummer of Tedworth," a concerto for speaking drummer and orchestra, performed and recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Jack Sheen and recorded at The Warehouse in London on January 18, 2024, this work explores a novel integration of voice and percussion, creating a symbiotic "fifth limb" where both collaborate in equal measure. The piece, comprising ten episodic narratives, draws inspiration from the haunting drumming phenomena documented in Joseph Glanvill's Saducismus Triumphatus, reflecting Noonan's interest in blending historical narratives with contemporary musical techniques.

Noonan’s prolific career includes over 32 albums influenced by a diverse array of genres such as orchestral, rock opera, avant-garde chamber music, and jazz-rock improvisation. His work has reached audiences in 15 countries, and his productions have included the London Symphony Orchestra, Ligeti Quartet, Matthew Bourne, Abdoulaye Diabaté and legends such as Marni Nixon, Marc Ribot, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and Malcolm Mooney. His music has been showcased in renowned venues and festivals including Bimhuis, A38, EFG London Jazz Festival, Haldern Pop Festival, Jazz Liege, Jazz Od Nowa, Sons D'Hiver MS Stubnitz Nottingham Jazzsteps Vilnius Jazz Festival Jazzclub Unterfahrt The Roulette, NY Kraakpand, Ghent.

Academically accomplished, Noonan holds a Doctorate from the Guildhall School of Music, a Master's degree from the Aaron Copland School of Music, and a Bachelor's degree in Music Education from Berklee College of Music. During his formative years, he honed his craft at the Old School House Theater on Sanibel Island, Florida, backing the legendary Hollywood songstress Marni Nixon. In 1999, he settled in New York and formed THE HUB, a punk-jazz trio praised by The Guardian's John Fordham as “maniacally exhilarating, gripping in its precision and energy, a real breath of fresh air.”

In 2006, Noonan received a commission from the American Composers Forum, leading him to develop his "wandering folk" theory. This concept involved traveling and collecting folklore from diverse cultures, resulting in the production of five albums with Brewed by Noon that blend Bardic (Susan McKeown) and Malian Griot (Abdoulaye Diabaté) traditions. In 2010, Noonan earned a Master's Degree in Composition, culminating in the release of "A Gambler's Hand," a suite for amplified string quartet and drums that integrates jazz and classical forms, heavily influenced by Beethoven and Bartok.

In 2016, Noonan premiered his "Zappanation Rock Opera" at the Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival, a tribute to Frank Zappa and Edgard Varèse, featuring the Sardinian vocal quartet Drumavox and the Ligeti Quartet. 2019 saw the release of "Tan Man's Hat" by Pavees Dance, a harmolodic jazz-rock ensemble that fuses free funk and pre-rap beat poetry, featuring Malcolm Mooney of CAN and Jamaaladeen Tacuma of Ornette Coleman's band. In 2022, Noonan released two albums: "Knott Tones," a collision of new music and free improvisation for the Ligeti string quartet and drum kit, and "Zappanation."

Noonan's recent projects reflect his commitment to innovation and his desire to explore new musical territories. These include "Silo: Episodes for Solo Speaking Drummer," "The Noonan Trio" with pianist Matthew Bourne and bassist Michael Bardon, and "Bartalk," a chamber music monodrama with the Ligeti Quartet. In April 2022, Noonan embarked on a six-concert tour with the Ligeti Quartet for the UK premiere of "Bartalk," culminating in a large ensemble performance at London’s St. Giles Church, featuring Matthew Bourne and Alex Ward. "Bartalk," commissioned by the Arts Council of England, PRS for Music, and Forestry England, is a cross-genre monodrama exploring the psychological stresses of solitary confinement through the lens of a speaking drummer.


Press Acclaim

The New York Times: "The drummer and composer Sean Noonan approaches postmodern jazz and world music from the same angle of self-discovery ....he manages to make his pieces speak coherently, and in a unified voice."

Sun Radio, 97.5FM Radio LoRa, Zurich, Switzerland: "Sean Noonan, 'Man No Longer Me' - Tender and soulful, grooving, possibly Noonan's most accessible work without sacrificing a bit of his fiercely angular avant bent and densely energetic poetic maelstrom. Bravo!"

Intro Magazine (in German): "As if the early Pink Floyd had a freejazz session with The Mars Volta in Africa."

Luminous Dash (in Flemish): "Sean has delivered his masterpiece."

Richard Foster - Louder Than War: "Imagine a head-on collision between Swell Maps, Gong, the Residents, the Magic Band, and the Modern Lovers. Freeform jazzy struts, too many notes; outrageous, dayglo sonic curlicues."

New York Music Daily: "The commitment to overall ambience, and mystery, and dark intensity is unwavering. Has there been an album (Memorable Sticks) so nonchalantly creepy released this year? That would be hard to imagine."

The Village Voice: "Drummer Noonan's notion of conflating 'bardic and griot traditions' has juice. The Celtic tunes and African grooves retain their singularity, even when surrounded by flashes of fusion."

Something Else! S. Victor Aaron: "You think this might be boring? C’mon man, relax, this is Sean Noonan…it’s like nothing else out there."

Lucid Culture: "Menacingly surreal, often assaultive, a feast for fans of dark, challenging music…it’s a category unto itself – and one of the best in any style of music. Scary Stuff from Sean Noonan."

All About Jazz New York: "Stories to Tell, album by drummer Sean Noonan's group Brewed by Noon, is a funky feast of music .....bursting with talented musicians and interesting sounds ...."

Rifraf (BE)-Bootsie: "Noonan strikes again conducting a string quartet with his drumsticks…like Bela Bartok french kissing with John Zorn. I wonder when the man finally will get some serious recognition in Culture loving Flanders?"

Thom Jurek - allmusic: "The drummer is a musical terrorist at heart…well-conceived and expertly arranged and performed pieces that reveal not merely an inner logic, but an external one as well."

Brent Black @CriticalJazz: "This is not the typical release but an experience. A dynamic and virtually flawless execution of art at an apex of creativity few can match."

All About Jazz: "Sean Noonan's A Gambler's Hand is a further step forward in his evolving blend of music and narrative." "....he succeeds at bridging the gap during the preponderance of these fascinating arrangements, constructed upon a multicultural array of cadences. Here, jazz vernaculars and birthrights are fused into a bold and beautiful chain of musical events, often enamored with vigor and finesse."

If you are interested in commissioning Noonan to compose or make a special performance or simply wish to support any of Noonans projects, please contribute here!  All funds go directly towards the request you make.