Here is my interview on London’s Jazz FM, the UK’s “home of jazz, soul and blues” on Nigel Williams’ Saturday show, August 25th, considered, I’m told, Jazz FM’s highest rated weekly program. Go to their website till this Saturday to hear it (I’ll get a copy to post after that) or read the interview below.
NIGEL WILLIAMS: So lovely, Aretha Franklin, “It Only Happens.” Now for drumming fans, get ready for a conversation for a new book about Billy Cobham coming up in just a minute. First let’s take a classic moment from him in, “Red Baron.”
“Red Baron” by Billy Cobham at 23:40. Interview commences at 29:00.
NIGEL WILLIAMS: My first guest is the author of “Six Days at Ronnie Scott’s: Billy Cobham on Jazz Fusion and the Act of Creation.” His name is Brian Gruber, who is actually in Thailand at the moment. Brian, whereabouts are you?
GRUBER: I’m on a beach on the north part of Koh Phangan, Thailand and the sun is going to go down shortly and it’s a beautiful day and you should be here.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think we should be, yes, we are all very, very jealous now. Let’s come back to London Soho then, and focus on Ronnie Scott’s. Your book is called “Six Days at Ronnie Scott’s.” The obvious question is, what’s it all about?
BRIAN GRUBER: I’ve known Bill Cobham for a while. The longer I knew him and thought I knew all of his stories, every time we would be driving somewhere or backstage at a show, he would have more and more new stories. What do you mean you were in a play with Muhammed Ali? And, what do you mean you jammed in a dance band with Jimi Hendrix at the New York Armory? And finally, I said, you’ve got to get these stories down. You owe it to yourself and to your fans. When he told me he was doing this six day gig with the UK’s fabulous Guy Barker arranging his best songs, with a really top-shelf 17-piece big band, I thought, what an interesting opportunity to go backstage, go to all the rehearsals, the load-in, the sound check, see the chatter between the musicians, how they set up their gear, and overlay six days backstage at this iconic club with six decades of a legend’s musical life. I think that technique worked and what came out of it is a book that a lot of people are enjoying.
WILLIAMS: I think that the mark of a good read is something that conjures up pictures and just in that description, you’re already putting yourself backstage and seeing these conversations happen.
GRUBER: Yeah, and to me, I don’t know whether it’s a fetish, I love being in a club hours before, during a sound check, seeing how these masters test how the acoustics are in different parts of the room, listening to them decide what’s on the playlist, to me, that’s, to use an American term, the “inside baseball.” What I tried to do, in addition to telling Bill’s best stories, was to give a sense of what that experience is like, especially at an extraordinary place like Ronnie Scott’s.
WILLIAMS: How does he, Billy Cobham himself, see this? Because quite often, with these really great artists, you speak to them and effectively, they are not thinking about it, they are just being themselves. Or, others, it really does go to their head. Which is he?
GRUBER: I was sitting with Michael Watt, one of the owners of Ronnie’s, and Bill was onstage, joking and being self-deprecating and Michael turned to me and said, “He shouldn’t do that. He’s a legend.” Bill has fierce pride about his music but is also very humble about it.
The deal we had is, it’s my book, I’ll have creative control but everything that I write you will be able to see before it’s published, and if there is anything too intimate or personal or wrong, then we’ll change that. And there were a lot of things about his family, about race, about his relationship with John McLaughlin, that were very personal. Finally, I persuaded him, that in order to tell your story, it’s your call, but we should keep these things in the book, and we did. So, I think for Bill, 74 years old now, he has never had a full-length book, a work like this, written about him, and I think there was a level of trust based on our relationship over the years. I had full access, I interviewed his wife and his brother, so many people, and ultimately I think he trusted me and I had a passion to tell his story.
WILLIAMS: It sounds like an absolutely fascinating read. Any fan is obviously going to enjoy this. Brian, we will be looking forward to seeing you when you come back to the UK, and do another one of these. Any other artists in mind that you would like to do a similar treatment to?
GRUBER: No, but I’ll tell you, it was so much fun for me. I had dinner with Bill and Kenny Barron and Ron Carter in Phoenix a few weeks ago. It’s a great privilege to hear and tell the story of a musical legend, or a political or business legend for that matter. Loved doing it and would love doing it again.
WILLIAMS: Brian, thanks very much indeed. Let’s play some Billy Cobham now, here with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, back from 1971, the legendary “You Know, You Know.”
WILLIAMS: Now how about that for some drumming then. With the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham there with “You Know, You Know,” much sampled that track, the album is, The Inner Mounting Flame from 1971. If you are interested in the book, it’s called, “Six Days at Ronnie Scott’s: Billy Cobham on Jazz Fusion and the Act of Creation.”