Billy Cobham Pays Tribute to Crosswinds at the Colonial
By Rob Nagy
Undeniably one of the greatest drummers of all time, Billy Cobham elevated the art of jazz- fusion drumming to new heights leaving a legacy that has inspired his peers and contemporaries for decades.
Backed by a stellar band that includes Paul Hanson (bassoon, sax), Fareed Haque (guitar), Tim Landers (bass), and Scott Tibbs (keys), Cobham is hitting the road with the “Crosswinds Project” paying tribute to his classic 1974 album release “Crosswinds.” Cobham will also be performing selections off his 1973 breakthrough album “Spectrum.”
“I come with the idea that I’m going to share who I am now based on who I was before,” says Cobham while on tour on the West Coast. “I decided to come together and present “Crosswinds” now, based on what I had been affected by in the business back then 40 years ago, so this is what you’ll hear. It’s a tribute and a roll back to an album I never really paid full homage to. I decided to get all the charts out again and revisit everything and upgrade it the best I can after forty years. It’s with a different cast of course. Most of my favorite people that were on that record are gone and there is nothing I can do to get them back, except play their parts through the younger generation.”
“We’re doing 22 shows in 30 days,” adds Cobham. “If you can imagine there was a time when it was totally natural for a band to play multiple shows a night, 6 nights a week with a matinee on Sunday for 6 weeks in one place. Those were the days when creativity was really at a pinnacle. Now, 22 shows in a month is platinum. I am quite pleased with the shows so far and I can only imagine that it will only get better.”
“People are curious pretty much every time I come out because it’s something a little bit different,” says Cobham. “I feel very blessed with the fact that all the people who come to play with me can play. We contribute our level of proficiency through our instruments and our ideas. That makes it all unique and brings something new to the stage that people find fresh. You watch all of that and you go, ‘Wow! What did I just hear that’s different?’ Leave everybody in a very positive environment with a feeling of ‘This is great! I got something for the investment that I made.’ That’s what it is all about.”
Rising to international prominence in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s working with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cobham ultimately earned his place among the elite with his 1987 induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2013.
“Part of the objective for me is not to just become one with the instrument, but become one with everyone else through my instrument,” says Cobham. “I speak through the drums. I’m not speaking spoken word, it’s much more intense and stronger than that. What we come across as is a personality that is only unique to the people who you are working with. You gotta believe enough in yourself to put your best foot forward every step.”
Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965, Cobham served as the drummer in the U.S. Army band. Following his discharge, his drumming prowess found him working with the Horace Silver Quintet. A house drummer with Atlantic Records, Cobham was an active session drummer appearing on recordings by George Benson, Milt Jackson and Grover Washington, Jr. Cobham formed the jazz rock group Dreams with Randy and Michael Brecker and John Abercrombie. Delving deeper into the world of jazz, Cobham toured with Miles Davis, appearing on the classic Davis albums “Bitches Brew” and “A Tribute to Jack Johnson.”
Following his time with Davis, Cobham and guitarist John McLaughlin formed the legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971. Touring extensively throughout the early ‘70s as the premier rock, jazz and funk-infused band they released the studio albums “The Inner Mounting Flame” (1971), “Birds of Fire” (1973) and the live album “Between Nothingness & Eternity” (1973).
Giving birth to his long awaited solo career, Cobham released his debut classic album “Spectrum” (1973), reaching number one on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and the Top 30 on the Top 200 Albums chart.
Throughout the ‘80s, Cobham has expanded his musical reach working with Jack Bruce (Cream), and The Grateful Dead, respectively, before giving birth to the band Glass Menagerie.
In the decades to follow, Cobham has continued to record and perform. His dedication to his craft and his versatility on the drums found him working with a who’s who of artists in the jazz community, a list that included Stanley Clarke, John Scofield, Larry Carlton, Buddy Miles, Jan Hammer and Jeff Berlin just to name a few.
“I just play what I do,” says Cobham. “That’s fundamentally what it’s all about for me, I can’t do much more than that anyway. I’m just going to do what I feel I can do and enjoy it for what it is and move on.”
“I’m taking it one day at a time. You play what you feel. You enjoy life and you thank goodness that you have the opportunity to play another day and you move on!”
In conjunction with the Crosswinds Project Tour, a special free eBook excerpt (first
chapter preview) of a forthcoming full-length book about Cobham will be released, written by author Brian Gruber, entitled, “Six Days at Ronnie Scott’s: Billy Cobham on Jazz Fusion and the Act of Creation.” This one-of-a-kind book offers a behind-the-scenes look at a grand musical collaboration: British arranger Guy Barker’s orchestration of Billy Cobham’s life's work for a six-day run with a 17-piece
big band at London’s iconic Ronnie Scott’s. In a riveting series of backstage conversations,
"Six Days at Ronnie Scott's" covers six decades of Cobham’s musical life, from his early days playing with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew to the formation of Mahavishnu Orchestra to performances with virtually every jazz great to his still-prolific schedule of touring and recording at age 73. Masters such as Ron Carter, Randy Brecker, Jan Hammer, and Guy Barker, as well as club owners, jazz critics and fans all get in on the action as the transformative early years of jazz fusion are explored, along with what drives Cobham to continue to create. Details of the full print and eBook release will be made public shortly.
“There are flashes of things that happened in my career,” says Cobham. “The things that you go through in life that make you say, ‘Wow I never thought about it like that, until it happens.’ When you put it down on paper it takes on a life of its own. A really great friend named Brian Gruber sat down with me. We used to chuckle about a lot of the funny quirky things that used to happen, over time he said, ‘We should do this.’ And I said, ‘Come on, nobody will ever read this.’ Sure enough we did it, the book is here and it’s really interesting.”
“It was fascinating for me to explore what happens with an artist that has that strong impulse to create and Bill’s personal story as to how he has stayed the course all these decades as an innovator and pioneer,” adds the book’s author, Brian Gruber, while on tour with Cobham. All the jazz legends that I spoke to said, ‘Billy is one of the greats.’ A very unusual combination of someone who can do it all, not just do one thing great, but from jazz to rock to funk and integrating it all.”
Billy Cobham brings his Crosswinds Project to the Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, PA 19460, Wednesday April 4, 2018 at 8:00 P.M. For tickets and further info call 610-917-1228 or visit www.thecolonialtheatre.com
To stay up to date with Billy Cobham visit www.billycobham.com