Jazz. Rock. Jazz-rock. Across more than four decades, legendary drummer Simon Phillips has shown an uncanny ability to excel in most any musical environment. Precision, intensity and emotion are hallmarks of Simon’s sound in every setting. And working with many of the world’s most prominent musicians from an early age, he has repeatedly made his mark through scores of historic recordings and tours around the globe.
By his twenties, Simon had already worked with iconic figures including Jeff Beck, Jack Bruce, Pete Townshend, Al Di Meola, Jon Anderson, Jan Hammer, Stanley Clarke, Jon Lord, Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno and others. Several of these artists had been important pioneers of the jazz-rock genre in the early and mid-1970s, also called fusion.
High-profile recordings and/or tours were soon to come with the likes of Mick Jagger, Asia, The Who, Gary Moore, Joe Satriani and many more. But it was the untimely death of drummer Jeff Porcaro that led to Simon’s 21-year presence in Toto (1992-2014), highlighted by ten albums and numerous world tours. During this period Phillips also worked on various projects led by Steve Lukather, Michael Schenker, Derek Sherinian and others.
More squarely within the realm of the jazz world, Simon worked in a trio led by virtuoso pianist Hiromi along with electric bassist Anthony Jackson (Chick Corea). This rich association lasted seven years, producing five albums from 2011-16 and touring extensively. During this period Phillips also performed in a jazz-rock trio with French keyboardist Philippe Saisse (Al Di Meola) and electric bassist Pino Palladino (Steve Gadd), under the group name PSP.
Listeners can discern the influence of many great drummers in Simon’s sound, not the least of which is ‘70s-era Tony Williams. According to Simon, “I was introduced to Tony by Jack Bruce back in 1977. His 1975 album, Believe It, is still one of my favorites.
While the first Protocol release was in 1989, Simon’s compositions really began to gel with the Protocol II album in 2013. This release brought together high-profile rock guitarist Andy Timmons with jazz-funk keyboardist Steve Weingart (Dave Weckl) and electric bassist Ernest Tibbs (Allan Holdsworth). Protocol II firmly established Simon’s new lineup as one of the truly great bands in jazz-rock history. The same lineup appeared on Protocol III in 2015.
Ernest Tibbs continued in the bass chair for the release of Protocol IV in 2017, but this record featured a major league rock session guitarist named Greg Howe (Michael Jackson) along with the dynamic young keyboardist Dennis Hamm (Thundercat). Still utilizing the quartet format, Protocol IV presents Simon’s strongest compositions yet — and it was nominated for a GRAMMY Award in the Contemporary Instrumental Album category.
Simon toured extensively as leader in 2019, celebrating Protocol’s 30th Anniversary and playing tunes from each of the previous albums. However, the lineup was tweaked once again, this time to become a quintet, including veteran keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz (John McLaughlin), Jacob Scesney on saxophones and the brilliant young guitarist Alex Sill.
Looking forward, Simon has begun to write new music for a Protocol V album, planned for 2021 release. “My goal is to compose better music and I hope the next album will be as good and as well-received as Protocol IV.”