Billy Cobham

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Billy Cobham 1974
Billy Cobham at the WOMAD, Reading 2005
Billy Cobham with his band at the St. Ingbert Jazz Festival 2014
Billy Cobham live at the Leverkusen Jazz Days 2016

Billy Cobham (born May 16, 1944 in Colón , Panama ; actually William Emanuel Cobham Jr. ) is a Panamanian- American fusion - or jazz - drummer and composer .


Billy Cobham was born in Panama but moved with his family to New York City when he was three years old and grew up there. His father was a pianist and Cobham made his first appearances with him at the age of eight. Cobham attended workshops with jazz greats like Thelonious Monk and Stan Getz in his early teens . In 1959 he began studying drums at the High School of Music and Art in Brooklyn , New York, from which he graduated in 1962 . After three years in a band in the United States Army (1965 to 1968), Cobham was discovered by Horace Silver , with whom he recorded his first records in 1968.

Initially, Cobham approached free jazz , but in the late 1960s, stylistically diverged from it and contributed significantly to the development of jazz-rock and fusion . He has been among the elite of jazz-rock drummers since the 1970s, which was also supported by his membership in the Mahavishnu Orchestra . He also appeared on Miles Davis' album Bitches Brew .

Cobham brought previously unknown playing styles into rock music , which still influence this style of music today; so he uses Latin American techniques, which he translates to the " American Drumset ". His technique, such as the use of the double bass drum, is outstanding . The technical difference between right and left hand is eliminated - an indication of Cobham's high technical level. In 1985 he countered the criticized commercialization of jazz:

“If I don't make any money, I lose the chance to do what I want artistically. Without money you have nothing to eat, you can't think you're dying ... "

Cobham played with Horace Silver and George Benson , among others ; Larry Coryell brought him in for his production Spaces (1969). From 1971 to 1973 he marked the elaborate counterpart to the fusion guitarist John McLaughlin in the Mahavishnu Orchestra . In 1973 he got a contract with the Atlantic label and released his first album Spectrum , which was named Best Jazz Record by Billboard Magazine . The album featured: Tommy Bolin on electric guitar, Jan Hammer on piano and Leland Sklar on bass. His first solo record undoubtedly made jazz-rock history.

In the same year he landed with Eumir Deodato and Stanley Clarke with the title Also Spoke Zarathustra a top 10 success in the United States and Great Britain .

As a result, he mainly played as a studio musician , in sessions and in his own projects, often together with Jan Hammer and George Duke ( keyboards ), John Abercrombie and John Scofield (guitar), and Randy and Michael Brecker ( trumpet and tenor saxophone ). From 1977 to 1980 he played under contract with CBS Records , since then he has been self-employed as a freelancer .

In the 1990s he played more often with young musicians and also crossed genre boundaries , for example in collaboration with The Grateful Dead or Peter Gabriel . He also takes part in television productions about jazz. In 1992/93 he played and taught on behalf of UNICEF in Brazil , where he supported a music project for street children . Around 2008 he often worked with McCoy Tyner and Stanley Clarke in the McCoy Tyner Trio . He also performed with the Cuban band Asere under the name Billy Cobham & Asere .

For the 40th anniversary of Spectrum he formed the Spectrum 40 Band project ( Dean Brown , Ric Fierabracci, Gerry Etkins). Billy Cobham is touring with his Billy Cobham Band in changing line-ups through Europe and North America, currently (as of 2016) with Jean-Marie Ecay (g), Michael Mondesir (b), Steve Hamilton (keyb) and Camelia Ben Naceur (keyb). In April 2016, for example, he will also appear with Ron Carter and Donald Harrison at the Blue Note Club .

In 2016, Rolling Stone listed him as 45th of the 100 best drummers of all time .


Cobham has lived in Switzerland since the 1970s. First in Zurich, then in Bern and currently in Schüpfen in the Bernese Seeland . From there he goes on tours all over the world.


  • Miroslav Vitouš - Purple (1970, CBS Japan)
  • Miles Davis : Bitches Brew (1970, Columbia)
  • Dreams : Dreams (1970, Columbia)
  • Dreams: Imagine My Surprise (1971, Columbia)
  • Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Love Devotion Surrender (1973, Columbia)
  • Billy Cobham: Spectrum (1973, WEA, UK: silversilver)
  • Billy Cobham: Shabazz - Live in Montreux (1973, WEA)
  • Billy Cobham: Crosswinds (1974, WEA, 1974)
  • Billy Cobham: Total Eclipse (1974, WEA)
  • Roberta Flack / Donny Hathaway : You've Got a Friend (1974, WEA)
  • Billy Cobham: A Funky Thide of Sings (1975, WEA)
  • Billy Cobham: Life and Times (1976, WEA)
  • Billy Cobham / George Duke Band: Live on Tour in Europe (1976, WEA)
  • Billy Cobham: Alivemutherforya (1977, Columbia)
  • Billy Cobham: Magic (1977, WEA)
  • Billy Cobham: Inner Conflicts (1978, WEA)
  • Billy Cobham: Simplicity of Expression - Depth of Thought (1978, Columbia)
  • Billy Cobham: BC (1979, Columbia)
  • Billy Cobham: Stratus (1981, INAK, direct cut)
  • Gil Evans : Live at the Public Theater (1981, Trio Japan)
  • Bobby & the Midnites (1981, Arista)
  • Glass Menagerie: Observations (1982, Elektra)
  • Glass Menagerie: Smokin (1983, Elektra)
  • Billy Cobham: Warning (1985, GRP)
  • Billy Cobham: Power Play (1986, GRP)
  • Billy Cobham: Live - Flight Time (1986, INAK)
  • Billy Cobham: Picture This (1987, GRP)
  • Billy Cobham: Billy's Best Hits (1988, GRP)
  • Billy Cobham: Incoming (1989, K-tel)
  • Billy Cobham: By Design (1991, Fnac)
  • Billy Cobham: The Traveler (1993, Fnac)
  • Stanley Clarke , Larry Carlton , Billy Cobham, Najee: Live at the Greek (1994, Epic)
  • Billy Cobham: Nordic (1996, Eagle Rock)
  • Billy Cobham: Mississippi Knights Live (1998, Wenlock)
  • Billy Cobham: Focused (1998, Eagle)
  • Billy Cobham: Nordic - Off Color (1999, Eagle)
  • Billy Cobham: Ensemble New Hope Street (1999, Eagle)
  • Billy Cobham: North by Northwest (2000, Creative MultiMedia Concepts)
  • Billy Cobham, Ron Carter , Kenny Barron : The Art of Three (2001, In + Out Records )
  • Billy Cobham: Drum'n'Voice - All That Groove (2001, Nicolosi / Just Groove)
  • Billy Cobham: Culture Mix (2002, In + Out Records)
  • Billy Cobham, Guy Barker, Donald Harrison, Orlando Le Flemming, Robert Hurst, Eric Reed, Julian Joseph: The Art of Five (2002, Real World Studios; Zurich 2003, Twin One Studios)
  • Billy Cobham: Drum'n'Voice 2 with Jan Hammer, Buddy Miles, John Patitucci, Jeff Berlin, Dominic Miller, Mike Lindup, Airto Moreira, Frank Gambale, Brian Auger, Guy Barker and the band Novecento. (2006, Nicolosi / Just Groove)
  • Billy Cobham, Colin Towns , hr-Bigband : A Celebration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra (2006, In + Out)
  • Billy Cobham: Fruit from the Loom (2007, CMMC)
  • Billy Cobham: Palindrome (2010, BHM)
  • Billy Cobham Band: Live in Leverkusen (2012, BHM)
  • Billy Cobham: Tales from the Skeleton Coast (2014, CMMC)
  • Billy Cobham: Mirror's Image (2015, Cleopatra)
  • Billy Cobham: The Atlantic Years 1973–1978 Box Set (2015, Rhino / Warner)

Web links

Commons : Billy Cobham  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Billy Cobham's Latin Roots on YouTube , accessed February 12, 2016
  2. to: André Asriel: Jazz. Lied der Zeit, Berlin 1985, p. 252.
  3. List of current projects on Billy Cobham's website, accessed April 11, 2016
  4. 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. Rolling Stone , March 31, 2016, accessed August 6, 2017 .
  5. Grooving in Peace. Tages-Anzeiger of August 14, 2013, accessed on April 11, 2016
  6. Music Sales Awards: UK