We launch the Writers of Koh Phangan weekly writers meet up Tuesday, April 17, at The Masons Arms back garden, Thongsala at 7:30pm. A special thanks to the new proprietor of pub for hosting the event. Stephen Oehme is a globetrotting business guy who has settled into life on the island with big plans to become an integral part of its evolution. We look forward to developing the weekly meeting, encouraging participants to share their work, get feedback and build a creative community.
CONCERT PREVIEW: Billy Cobham pays tribute to Crosswinds at the Colonial
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, titled, “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.’
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. 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.”
Music critic Geoff Gehman interviews Bill during the Crosswinds tour with a nice mention of the new book.
Q: You collaborated with Brian Gruber on a new book about your life, career and world view set during last year’s sets with Barker’s big band at Ronnie Scott’s. Why did you decide to go so deep with Gruber? I know he’s a fellow adventurer from Brooklyn, a new-media specialist who launched a live-streaming showcase for gigs in jazz clubs.
Bill Cobham: What’s really special abut Brian is that he keeps an open mind. He absorbs information and translates it really well. He puts what I say into words that I think the general public can handle. I feel very comfortable that the passages I’ve read represent what I’ve been through and who I am accurately.
Geoff sent me a follow up note that I don’t mind sharing.
“Looking forward to having your noble, necessary book in my hands. Billy C. is a superior musician, teacher, thinker and envoy. And you and Guy Barker are no slouches, either. All in all a really well-made match.”
“Six Days at Ronnie Scott’s: Billy Cobham on Jazz Fusion and the Act of Creation”
There was a domestic war in the United States, a growing ‘generation gap’ in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s even as the conflict in Vietnam was escalating. I was 14 in March of 1970, my brother Jeff a wise but wild role model at the advanced age of 19.
My earliest memory is of my mother Claire tying my shoes at three years old at our Legion Street, Brooklyn tenement. But my fiercest early memory was Mom raging at Jeff in our East New York, Brooklyn housing-project apartment upon finding anti-war paraphernalia. Five decades later, I can tell you exactly what one button said: “The Great Society, Bombs, Bullets, Bullshit.”
It was a political and cultural divide and music was smack on the front lines. Jazz, firmly established as America’s popular music, had been overwhelmed by rock and roll, which my parents despised. Anti-war buttons aside, and well before music might be safely sequestered in iTunes libraries, vinyl ‘records’ littered teenage bedroom floors, with designs, liner notes and musical forms aspiring to subvert the existing order. Relatively clueless, as I trailed my brother’s political and musical evolution by a half decade, I could tell the degree of subversion by the pitch of my mother’s voice.
“The Sad Sad World of Mothers and Fathers??!?” That Brute Force title was not well received by Claire, nor were Frank Zappa lyrics, or odd, loud explosions of sound taunting my parents’ more civilized record collection, tucked neatly in the hi-fi stereo cabinet.
Billy Eckstine was a favorite of Mom’s. As was Frank Sinatra. There was Cab Calloway, who my father hired in the ‘30s to perform at his Brooklyn house party. And lots of Al Jolson, who Dad could imitate flawlessly. Some of the records did find some purchase amongst the kids. Dave Brubeck’s odd-metered Take Five. And the first jazz album that turned my head, the breakthrough bossa nova classic, Getz/Gilberto.
In March 1970, President Richard Nixon was promising peace with honor in Vietnam while striking out at the Paris peace talks. But my dad Sol and brother Jeff found their own way to harmonize personal and musical differences: they took me to my first concert. The Fillmore East was Bill Graham’s Manhattan rock and roll mecca, and a unique breeding ground for visual and musical experimentation. The headliner, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, was preceded by the Steve Miller Blues Band. With Miles Davis opening, and performing, among other things, the breakthrough release that is widely considered the birth of jazz-rock ‘fusion,’ Bitches Brew.
No, that’s not quite right. Davis played second.
I was opening for this sorry-ass cat named Steve Miller…didn’t have shit going for him, so I’m pissed because I got to open for this non-playing motherfucker just because he had one or two sorry-ass records out. So, I would come late and he would have to go on first, and then when we go there, we just smoked the motherfucking place and everybody dug it, including Bill. – Miles: The Autobiography, by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, Touchstone/ Simon & Schuster, 1989, pg. 301
A few weeks before, William Emmanuel Cobham Junior found himself in a studio recording tracks for Bitches Brew, along with John McLaughlin and an astounding cast of artists who would go on to transform jazz and popular music.
I first met Billy Cobham just before my birthday in August of 2010. I was spending a good part of the summer at friend Marynell Maloney’s home in France’s Loire River valley. A few days earlier, just across the river in Jargeau, Joan of Arc’s old stomping grounds, I was reading in an open-air plaza, sipping a glass of local wine, when three musicians suddenly set up a few yards away. They proceeded to perform an acoustic rendition of Chick Corea’s Spain. After their shockingly good performance, I introduced myself and got their card. Marynell invited them to perform at the birthday party and I casually suggested Bill might join them. She rightly scorned the idea, a legend playing with local musicians, won’t happen. But after dinner, as they played on the patio under a starry sky, he did just that on a tiny drum set. A friend of Bill’s remarked, “He can’t help himself.”
In the years since, I have seen Bill perform in Paris, Milan, Rio and numerous U.S. cities. As he plugged his iPad into my car audio system, he would share a never-ending stream of stories that were not only insightful, bawdy and astounding, but also provided a unique panorama of the last half-century of American music. So, when Bill told me he was collaborating with Britain’s hottest arranger, jazz trumpeter Guy Barker, to orchestrate and perform his oeuvre with a 17-piece big band at Europe’s premiere jazz club Ronnie Scott’s, I thought: why not hang out backstage, in rehearsals and at the bar during the six-day run and finally gather those stories. Not a biography, but an oral history exploring six decades of music, an improvised series of encounters during one special week. Talk to the greats who have played with him, club owners, music critics, friends and family to explore the source of Billy Cobham’s musical power and joy, this jazz fusion pioneer and innovator, and discover what motivates him to continue to create at the age of 73.
Guy is calling the six-day residency at Ronnie’s “a celebration of Bill’s life and work in music.” Billy Cobham, a guy voted year after year as the greatest drummer in the world, considered the greatest living jazz fusion drummer, one-time bandmate of Miles Davis, Randy Brecker, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, Ron Carter, George Duke, Stan Getz, Muhammad Ali (!), George Benson, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Taylor, Horace Silver, from incarnations of the Grateful Dead and Jack Bruce to Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD, the list seems endless.
Back in the chateau’s expansive dining room, I asked Bill if he had any birthday advice for me. He answered without hesitation, “Live your life with reckless abandon.”
I’m working on it.
December 18, 2017
Koh Phangan, Thailand
To get a sneak preview of the first chapter of the book and sign up for a pre-publication discounted copy of the book when it is released, visit our Contact page.
The life and music of jazz fusion drummer and composer Billy Cobham is the subject of my next book, Six Days at Ronnie Scott’s: Billy Cobham on Jazz Fusion and the Act of Creation. At 73, Bill’s life work is extraordinary, perhaps the most prolific and innovative jazz drummer on the planet. From his early days working at the 52nd Street landmark Hickory House with Dr. Billy Taylor to touring Europe with bebop pioneer Horace Silver, from collaborating with Miles Davis on fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew to helping form the breakthrough Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bill has played with the greats and composed original music for decades. And now, for the first time, his story will come to the world in print.
We are in discussions with publishers but why not get an early start with a sneak preview of the opening chapter? Sign up on our Contact page and get the first section of the book free, plus get on the list for a pre-publication discount copy when we go to press.