Panamanian American jazz drummer, composer and bandleader Billy Cobham celebrates the 40th anniversary of his first solo album, Spectrum 40, at The Palladium Theater Friday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.
ST. PETERSBURG - Panamanian American jazz drummer, composer and bandleader Billy Cobham will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his first solo album, Spectrum 40, bringing his groundbreaking “explosive power and exacting precision” to The Palladium Theater on Friday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $30, $40 and $50 and available through The Palladium’s website, www.mypalladium.org, by phone 727-822-3590 or at The Palladium Theater Box Office, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg.
The concert is presented by The Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts.
Ever since his breakthrough in the early 1970s – as a founding member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and as a drummer/leader whose recordings exerted a strong influence on the course of jazz and jazz-fusion – Billy Cobham has remained a tireless musical explorer.
Panamanian by birth, a New Yorker by upbringing and a resident of Switzerland for more than 25 years, Cobham has pursued an ever-broadening, ever-deepening engagement with the world not only as a master drummer and percussionist but as a composer, producer, educator and clinician who gives service through music even as he constantly expands his personal creative expression.
Cobham is one of the first drummers to play open-handed lead: a drummer who plays on a right-handed set but leads with his left hand on the hi-hat instead of crossing over with his right. He typically plays with multiple toms and double bass drums and became known in the 1970s for his large drum kits.
Cobham had his first paying gig at age eight, courtesy of his pianist father and cut his teeth on drumming as a member of St. Catherine's Queensmen, a drum and bugle corps in St. Albans, Queens. He attended New York's famed High School of Music and Art, where he studied music theory and drum technique alongside some of today's great musical legends including trumpeter Jimmy Owens, bassist Eddie Gomez and pianist Larry Willis.
At the time, "jazz was a bit off-limits to students while classical music was preferred by the education establishment,” Cobham explains, “ So of course students craved to connect with jazz artists in any way that they could, be it chance encounters at school lectures or via LP recordings that they could study and eventually emulate."
He played as a percussionist in a United States Army Band from 1965-68 and, after his discharge, began working in Horace Silver's band. He became one of the first percussionists to use the Electronic Drum Controller made by the Meazzi Drum Company in Milan and performed with Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott and recorded with George Benson.
In 1969, Cobham co-founded the fusion group Dreams also featuring Randy Brecker, Michael Brecker, John Abercrombie, Don Grolnick, Barry Rodgers and Will Lee. The following year he was invited to join Miles Davis's group.
Mahavishnu Orchestra was formed by John McLaughlin in 1971 with Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird. They released three acclaimed albums. Cobham launched his solo career in 1973 with Spectrum, considered one of the definitive albums of the jazz-rock era, with keyboardist Jan Hammer from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, guitarist Tommy Bolin (who later played with Deep Purple) and bassist Lee Sklar.
During the '80s, Cobham recorded steadily for Atlantic, CBS, Elektra and GRP, collaborating with artists ranging from George Duke, John Scofield and Tony Williams to Jack Bruce and the Grateful Dead, both on stage and in the studio.
The ‘90s brought Cobham the experience of working with autistic outpatients and street children in Santos, Brazil through a UNICEF musical project and performing, recording and producing at the WOMAD Festival (World of Music, Arts and Dance) with Peter Gabriel, Nigeria's Okuta Percussion and Farafina from Burkina Faso. Cobham’s association with WOMAD continues to this day, and he is now an Official Patron of WOMAD in Bath.
Since then, Cobham has toured and recorded extensively, developed the Conundrum book series teaching music, introduced “The Art of Jazz” series and reactivated Spectrum as a band that revisits the music of that genre-reinventing album. He began teaching drums online at the Billy Cobham School of Drums, a school within the ArtistWorks Drum Academy in 2011.
"Music will tell the world who you are, based on what you present and how you present it. You can't lie through this medium,” Cobham says.
And as with any artistic endeavor, the personal becomes the universal, and Billy Cobham's most recent musical journey - back to his beginnings - will be shared and savored by his listeners around the world.