top of page
  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin



Henry David Thoreau

Last week I was in the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It was Friday night and there was music. Pianist Mr B brought three more traditional jazz pianists and one drummer with him to play for us. The pianists  took turns. An old friend Bob Seeley returned to Detroit to be part of the event. Bob is now 90 years old but still has the hands of a teenager.

One night about thirty years ago Bob sat down at a piano and played three variations  of Eubie Blake’s song  I’m Just Wild About Harry. It was 3 o’clock in the morning at one of Mike Montgomery’s legendary rent parties. Ragtime players from around the country and world came to these weekend parties. It was a way of keeping traditional jazz music from getting lost. As a lot of the tunes were only on piano rolls, no one knew for sure how the music was played by the composers. Eubie Blake was about 90 years old then and had just come off a show on broadway about ragtime. He was at the rent party to learn some new tunes. Bob played Eubie’s song as he thought three of Eubie’s contemporaries would have played it. He tore it up. When he was done Eubie said in a gentle voice. “You are terrific,, but none of those guys could keep time. We wandered all over the place.”

Bob plays jazz like a Detroiter, with a persistent beat.

Bob grew up in Detroit and lived here for 88 years. It is in his DNA. He is known for his pneumatic left hand and a right hand that is constantly finding ways to remind us of better days. Watching him play in front of Diego Rivera’s mural depicting workers and machines in an automotive assembly line caused me to link the relentless beat that is the signature trait of Detroit jazz musicians with our history of keeping up with machines. That thump, thump,thump of the workplace has been part of what has made Detroit such a great town for music, especially for ragtime piano players and drummers.



Some of us who are told that we can’t sing and love music get drumsticks and give drumming a try.

My father needed a quiet space to concentrate on his work. He was a commercial illustrator and was under pressure to meet deadlines. This need for silence was in conflict with his son who really liked making noise, My heroes were big band drummers, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

In an act of kindness I was given a pair of sticks and a rubber covered drum pad. It made as much noise as hitting my pillow. The sticks didn’t bounce like they do when you pound on a drum head. The sticks made a lot more noise when I used the furniture as a drum surface. That was the end of my career as a drummer.

When I had a basement of my own I bought a used drum set. I played the drums but my left hand never knew what my right hand was thinking. My son Bill figured it out. He is a really good drummer, and he continues to get better and better. For a long time I kept the drum set and would retreat to the basement from time to time for some drum therapy. I  came back upstairs a little happier. Self love.

“A good groove releases adrenaline in your body. You feel uplifted, you feel centered, you feel calm, you feel powerful. You feel that energy. That’s what good drumming is all about”.  Mickey Hart


It always seemed to me that drummers were having all the fun and so had to be hidden.

Behind or to the side of the band we can usually find the drummer. They will be sitting down next to the stand up bass. They can be seen occasionally when the band steps aside, signifying a drum solo is coming.

“I think that any young drummer starting out today should get himself a great teacher and learn all there is to know about the instrument that he wants to play.”  Buddy Rich


Sean Dobbin’s public face is behind his drum kit. Sean is unquestionably a first call drummer when he isn’t leading his own band. He is a powerful figure who visually seems always to just barely restrain himself from beating his drum set into submission. That is not all he is. Sean exemplifies what a jazz player and a great drummer should be. Jazz artists like Sean in the past were portrayed as talented souls hanging out in smoky jazz joints until the sun comes up. Well, times have changed.


When the sun comes up, you will often find Sean involved with getting his kids organized for school. He and his wife have shared the responsibility of bringing up three bright kids.


I have watched Sean Dobbins teach a class. He knows how to keep young minds focused and his lessons interesting. He continues to spread his knowledge of and his passion for jazz throughout  the community .

When Sean sees a need in our community he responds. In Detroit this is what many musicians do.

Sean is on the faculty at the University Of Michigan, Oakland University and Wayne State University. He is also MSU’s Community Music School Director

Sean Dobbins is working with young students in several youth programs. He created a series of events that he calls THE RISING STARS SERIES. This program allows the young talent that is coming  out of Detroit to be able to perform at multiple venues around the city.


Sean has for some time led some of Detroit’s most authentic jazz groups. All the bands have been formed out of his deep regard for jazz history. Sean follows his calling to keep jazz alive by honoring Detroit’s rich heritage. This week he is bringing The Modern Jazz Messengers to the Dirty Dog.

The Jazz Messengers were an influential jazz combo that existed for over thirty-five years beginning in the early 1950s as a collective, and ending when long-time leader and founding drummer Art Blakey died in 1990. Blakey led or co-led the group from the outset. “Art Blakey” and “Jazz Messengers” have became synonymous over the years,

The Modern Jazz Messengers

The Modern Jazz Messengers have become a mainstay in Detroit’s jazz world.  Like the band’s inspiration Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Sean Dobbins is big on rotating the members and keeping the band’s front line youthful and hard swinging.  Art Blakey, the original Sean Dobbins, who led the original Messengers would be proud to see where Sean has taken the music.

“Jazz is a heartbeat—­its heartbeat is yours. Langston Hughes

John Osler

Detroit drummers will always get some love at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café .

MAY 8 -11


You have to have a heart before you can have a heartbeat. Sean Dobbins has a big heart and a big beat. Sean is the whole package.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page