10 Questions for Billy Cobham by Bryan Reesman from GOLDMINE 10/31/03

A monster drummer, a fusion pioneer, and a jazz mainstay, Billy Cobham is a living legend. For four decades the preeminent percussionist has played with some of the most revered names in jazz and fusion - Miles Davis, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra - not to mention his long-running solo career, which includes more than 30 releases beginning with his mind-blowing 1973 debut SPECTRUM.

Some would contendthat Cobham has maintained a low profile throughout the last two decades. This is untrue, for he has been actively recording and touring and even founded a label and concert promotions company called Creative Multimedia Concepts.Considering his endeavors have been focused more on overseas markets [ he hasbeen residing in Switzerland for more than 20 years], it's not surprising thatAmerican critics and fans have interpreted a lull in activity.

Cobham's latest major project is the ART OF JAZZ series, which highlights music recorded by Cobham with various musical cohorts in a variety of formations, including a trio, quartet, and quintet [THE ART OF THREE, FOUR , AND FIVE respectively], plus his Caribbean fusion group CULTURE MIX.Additionally, there is the CONUNDRUM interactive CD, which uses music Cobham performed with the LONDON JAZZ ORCHESTRA and allows listeners to mute any one of the seven instrument groups and play along. The drummer hopes to make his entire ART OF JAZZ series an interactive experience in the future, and he is also assembling a book of photographs he has taken throughtout his career, including his tenure with Davis and Clarke.

Fans have not forgotten his groundbreaking early work, either. Two years ago Rhino unleashed the two-CD set RUDIMENTS: THE BILLY COBHAM ANTHOLOGY, which encapsulates his innovative and prolific '70s work, plus a DVD-audio reissue of the influential SPECTRUM album, which feature JAN HAMMERon keyboards, LEE SKLAR on bass, and the late TOMMY BOLIN on guitar. Cobham recently played North American dates with the NEW SPECTRUM BAND, which includes keyboardist TOM COSTER, bassist VICTOR BAILEY and guitarist FRANK GAMBALE.

In this exclusive GOLDMINE interview, Cobham discussed his evolving catreer and his reemergence on the American jazz circuit. Q- What inspired you to move to Switzerland? A- I wanted to study. I mean not going to a university with walls but choosing another environment in which to learn from, through, in. Being here in North America, I found that everyone is kind of on automatic. I felt that I functioned here so easily that I took a lot of things for granted, and a lot of questions continued to pass thru my brain about why certain things were the way they were, and I kept coming to the conclusion that we were programmed in a certain way. We all are. Certain key elements program the rest. instance, what we read in school, from the very, very beginning. I often asked at a very young age - who decided what was in the Bible? Why is there so much conflict about a supreme being that everyone is supposed to revere so highly and yet there are so many wars about it? This is illogical to me. Because if there is this one supreme being, then why are we fighting about what he/she.... is it a he, is it a she? What laws presented and how? Being brought up in Brooklyn, something said "Hey man, it's about money." Q- Of course! A-For a whole lot of people, it ain't "Of course." When you see some of these bozos with these church TV shows- here's a guy who's talking about"Do as I say ,not as I do", and preaches one specific thing, goes out and does the complete opposite, then comes back and says,"I have sinned." After a while, I'm looking at this and I'm going, "Is this the way the rest of the world is? Or is there another spin?" This is all about bucks or being wealthy enough in certain respects to have a life that is of leisure. The end objective is peace of mind. Everybody's going for that in various ways. It's an extremely expensive commodity, so it means that people get killed just by other people who want , not so much to control those around them, but to control their immediate society. All those things went through my hed when I left the United States.

Q - What have you found it like in Switzerland? A- I found that , contrary to the U.S, people will say, "It's such a boring , slow place." Exactly. Exactly! It's boring to those who are moving so fast that they don't have time to really understand that what they're seeking-which is peace of mind- is obtainable at a slower pace in an area where there are not as many selections to have. But are you willing to pay that price? It's like saying, "I'm going to leave New York and move to Cork, Ireland."The next question is , "what's in Cork, Ireland?" Peace of mind. There's a river that runs through it. There's a small town where the sidewalks roll up at 4:00 in the afternoon. Things don't get done on the same day that you think they should. Strangely enough, people still survive. Asa a matter of fact, they live to the ages of 90 and 100, ane they're happy about it. It's not like they're in pain. Q- America has become a country that is completely obsessed with youth.People reach the age of 30 and think that they're old. A- I just came back from visiting my web site [www.billycobham.com], and somebody comes up on the guest book and says, "How old are you? A hundred? You've been around so long and done all these things..."It's all relative to what you do and to who you are and where you've been. So far this year I've put in a lot of miles, man. I've been in India, in the Caribbean, and in the Middle East. There are things happening all over the world. If I stay in the U.S., chances are that I don't see a lot of that.

Q- How do the American and European jazz scenes compare? A- the European jazz scene is much more intellectual, mcuh more evenly spread out. I play 20 to 30 concerts for every show that I play here in the States. That's because I'm only recently being considered as a candidate to play here in the U.S. Q- A candidate in what sense? A- In terms of people thinking about me as an artist who could bring people into their venue. People just don't think of Billy Cobham as a jazz musician, if they think of Billy Cobham at all. Q- Yet you have a reputation for being the greatest fusion druimmer around!! A- That has been a marketing no-no. Fusion? Oh my ! The negative posture by the media on fusion over the last 20-some years is fascinating. I just sit there and watch. What can one say? Jazz has never been organized enough in any form, and fusion is a combination of jazz and rock n' roll at a level that is pretty much the pinnacle of what it would be for both art forms. It won't go away and jazz has to go away. That's music that can't go away because it represents people who won't die right now. There's always going to be a market for that. I played a jazz-rock tour in India with Jean-Luc Ponty, and we played Bombay, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Calcutta. We were averaging, modestly, about 10,000 people per night. They all paid to come and check it out. Q- During the 70's , you had a very frenetic, heavy style of playing. As you've gotten older, your music has become more restrained. Did you tap into a different pulse after moving to Switzerland? A- Yes. I found also that as I get older, I find the theory that less is more, the complexity of simplicity, is a conundrum unto itsellf. All of a sudden you find you're playing the music and looking to find the space, the air where people can imagine what should be there for themselves, and that makes the music in itself even more beautiful. It's like getting Sly Stone to get up on stage and mouth the words "dance to the music", maybe five to ten times, and then he never has to say it anymore. but everybody will swear that they sang it with him all the time, and all they're doing is clapping. The same thing with the music. You play certain patterns or you play a pattern that everybody can be familiar with what, or it sounds like it's going in this particular logical direction, and they fill in the spots within their own mind. Now you have an audience that's become part of the band. That you learn when you start to lean toward 60 like me.

Q- I've always felt that you do so much with drums melodically, but I feel that many people don't know or understand that. A- It's not necessary for them to know it if they're only looking for the drummer to hit the high -hat , play the snare drum and the bass drum and occasionally hit a cymbal because that's all that the music requires. So they don't need too know any more. It just blows everything that they have in mind to do. It depends on the music. Q- Didn't you work on some commercial jingles back in the past? A- I still do that from time to time. Q -- What's been the most memorable jingle you've actually recorded? A --Certs. That happened around 1969. It was just one of those things where you walk in and the contractor says" You won';t need any drums today. Just clap. We can't do it because it's union regs, so all you have to do is this: 'Certs is a breath mint.Certs is a candy mint.Two' Clap "Two" Clap "Two mints in one": That ran for 20-something years. [laughs] Q- Did you get any good royalties off of that? A- Sure! Union checks are really small, but they do add up. Twenty bucks here or there every 13 weeks, and the next thing you know, you've got something. Q- If there were another drummer you could jam with, who would it be? A- I'd probably get on with Dennis. Chambers and I have a pretty good rapport. I want to make music with people. I don't want to compete with people. That makes it a lot of fun for me when I'm doing that. I think that with Dennis we could probably do some things that would work. What's unique about him is that he doesn't read music, but he has some very, very interesting ideas. He's a very sensitive person, and that will come through the music. He's not a pounder. He's someone who will play the drums with a very strong human attitude behind it, with a story behind it. That's very, very special. That's very important. Q- What do you think about the future of jazz? A- It will always be around as long as there is a human race.



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Article 13 - 10 Questions for Billy Cobham by Bryan Reesman from Goldmine 10/31/03