Why Jeff Sipe (Apt. Q-258) is My Favorite Drummer on This Planet – and Probably the Next

Featured image courtesy of Joey Pye / Staged Right

Somehow, despite latching onto Phish and Widespread Panic in 1993 (and the Dead in the ’70s), I missed the Aquarium Rescue Unit boat. Even after I picked up a copy of the amazing Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit, I still didn’t go see them live.

Accordingly, my first Jeff Sipe encounter would be on 07/20/99. That date is memorable, because it was my first (and only) time seeing Jazz is Dead. The original band featured Billy Cobham on drums along with Sipe’s ARU bandmate Jimmy Herring on guitar, Alphonso Johnson on bass, and T. Lavitz of The Dixie Dregs on keyboards. By the time of the band’s second album, Laughing Water, Cobham had left and was replaced by Rod Morgenstein of The Dixie Dregs (back on tour in 2018!) and Jeff Sipe.

The show that night was spectacular. Afterward, all of the band members were delighted to talk to the members of the all-too-sparse audience. I was thrilled to talk to Johnson, whom I’d seen play with the Cobham-Duke Band (with John Scofield) and with Weather Report. And it was great meeting all of the others, but Sipe was the warmest and most open. It so happened that I had purchased the CD that afternoon, then to discover that band didn’t have them yet for sale. Mine was the only copy there! That too was my introduction to Zambiland, given that Sipe drew great messages on the CD cover.

In 2006, Sipe and Herring, both Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., products, toured with Hampton bandmate Bobby Lee Rodgers (The Codetalkers) for a tour that passed through St. Petersburg (02/24/06) and a short-lived venue called The Bank, which was, not coincidentally, formerly a bank. Did it have an open vault? Yes. Did I walk INTO the vault? Hell, no! That was a fun, intimate show.

In 2008, we travelled to West Virginia for the All Good Music Festival. The outstanding lineup included WMDS (07/12/08), a “popular” acronym in that era. In this instance, WMDS stood for Williams, Moseley, Droll, and Sipe. I certainly liked Keller Williams and Keith Moseley, bassist for The String Cheese Incident, but I was most excited to hear Gibb Droll for the first time  (WOW) and see my favorite guy on drums. It was a spectacular set, a highlight of a great festival. Just listen to Sipe’s brilliance on “Casa Quetzal.”

It would be another three years before another Sipe sighting. We had seen a number of outstanding performances from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones with Jeff Coffin. This time Coffin was touring with his incredible band including Sipe, Mike Seal, Chris Walters, Bill Fanning and Felix Pastorius. And, to double our pleasure, it was a Thursday show in Orlando (11/03/11) back when my favorite band, Shak Nasti, was in Thursday night residence at Tanqueray’s. The Coffin show at The Plaza Live was a jazz tour de force, just incredible. Sipe and Pastorius as a rhythm section? Fuggetaboutit.

After getting CDs autographed, we headed over to Tanq’s for Tim Turner, Matt Lapham, and Rion Smith. They are an amazing band — just a trio at the time — and were killing again on a Thursday. When who should walk down the steps to the club but Coffin, Sipe and Pastorius. Of COURSE Coffin sat in for several superb numbers. Even better: we got to talk to Sipe and Pastorius for half an hour. Respect!

In 2015, we were excited when Warren Haynes released his magnificent album Dust and Ashes, recorded with members of Railroad Earth. When he took that album on tour in the fall of that year, he was joined by fine Nashville trio Chessboxer and by Sipe. The album is lovely, laid back for the most part, a great tribute to Haynes’s roots. On tour, let the ass-kicking commence! We were on the rail as Sipe helped propel the band, especially kicking it up on “Skin It Back” and “Instrumental Illness” at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg (10/23/15).

This video is from 10/02/15. “Instrumental Illness” starts at 1:19, “Skin It Back” at 1:45.

Fast-forward to 11/25/17 and the Meeting of the Spirits tour with Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip and John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. (Because I failed to grasp the real significance of the Aquarium Rescue Unit reunion tour in 2015, especially given the passing of the Col. in May of this year.) Here is a link to my review, but if you searched you’ll discover that virtually every reviewer has had the same opinion: TITANIC.

And Sipe, with Herring’s band, was again simply brilliant. That word has popped up here several times, but it is accurate. And when the two bands performed music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, is was magical beyond belief, nine men melded into a single unit. Check this video of the two bands plus the collaboration for proof:

And that doesn’t begin to cover his studio recordings with ARU, Jimmy Herring and his own band. Here is a link to Sipe’s Wikipedia page with a good discography. And even that one does not include his most recent Jeff Sipe Trio album with Mike Seal on guitar and Taylor Lee on bass:

Or his work on Jimmy Herring’s most recent album, Subject to Change Without Notice:

He is in constant demand for his superb work with masters such as Ike Stubblefield:

Apt. Q-258? That’s an address you should know.

Jeff Sipe
Jeff Sipe Trio


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