Billy cobham ,a American jazz drummer, composer and bandleader, Billy’s recent collabration with ArtistWorks Drum Academy along with Thomas lang is a step towards future. Let’s hear what Billy has to say about “Billy Cobham School of Drums” in his exclusive talk with Indian Drummer.
ID – Longevity, freshness & vitality are terms that come to mind when thinking about you, how do you Mr Cobham, continue to perform at this top level even after all this time?
Billy: I try very hard to manage my time in such a way as to gain the best and most positive results from what I do each day that I can. Whether it is regarding performances, studies, reading, or just being quiet, it is important to accomplish whatever it is that I set out to do in as positive a way as I can.
ID – On a personal note, do you feel that you’re past your prime or do you still feel that those drums & your time spent on it will still throw up a few surprises for yourself & your fans in the years to come?
Billy: I don’t feel that I am past my prime in terms of performance but as far as age is concerned that is another matter, yes. That being said, I have found that I am focused upon making the best use of my energy that I can both on and off stage by focusing upon conserving my energy by playing as economically and stress free as I can. In this way, I have found that many new and fresh ideas come to me thus, allowing me to pursue new musical avenues.
ID – Out of all the amazing musicians you’ve had the chance to play with, which are your most personally favourite & memorable events, & why?!
Billy: The names, Hancock, Davis, McLaughlin, Silver and Gabriel come to mind. Herbie Hancock because he played with a new level of intensity level that I had not experienced before. Miles Davis – I learned to manage the band and the music in real time during performance. Horace Silver – I learned to organize a concert in terms of what compositions to play that would be appealing to the audience. John McLaughlin – ‘The odd time signature’ dimension was a platform that I would have found it very difficult to develop if he had not invited me to take part in the performances of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Peter Gabriel – Until I performed with Peter Gabriel I had not really worked in front of a large audience of 50’000 or more so, I did not know why rock drummers played in the manner that they do. It was a great educational period for me.
ID – As you have definitely seen generations of drummers throughout your time, what do you have to say about the quality of playing & personality of drummers these days as compared to a much earlier time?
Billy: I believe that the personality and playing quality of percussionists today are quite diverse and reflect the social community in which they live as more isolated in nature, depending upon the region or country that these players may hail from. The reasons are many, from economics to misunderstanding due to language to just pure insecurity about leaving ‘home turf’. The end result is that the performance of one individual versus another might come off as being based upon only one aspect of the total musical pict as in the drummer being more of a Rhythmatist than a complete musician. Therefore specialising in being “keeper of time” or being a ‘synchronist’ in his approach to playing the drums.
ID – As a drummer who’s always looking to learn how to set up his set better, could you share a few of your set-up tips with us – the angles, positioning, space & distance between drums, etc?
Billy: The most important thing for me to remember when setting up my drum set is that I need to set the drums up in a way that will allow me to perform through them in as comfortable a position as possible. All components within my performance environment must be at their most effective and optimum distances from and to me in order for me to present my ideas. Each player has to find that point between themselves and their equipment that personally defines that theory.
Billy: Yes! I been to India & No, I have not put an effort into playing any traditional Indian instruments but this is due to the strong amount of respect that I harbour for the music and the life style. I love to perform with musicians who have a strong familiarity with the musical environment when performing with these instruments.
ID – What do you have to say about the experience of playing along with India’s best, like Ustad Zakhir Hussain, Taufiq Qureshi, Trilok Gurtu, Vijay Chauhan, etc?
ID – In your opinion is there any fundamental difference in counting, composing & playing western music on the drums as opposed to these more traditional Indian instruments?
Billy: Yes: In traditional communal performance, which is where I would place traditional Indian music, one feels the music more than counts it. As much as it is presented as a audio – mathematical equation that point is minor and more surface in importance to what is felt within the body when it is performed correctly. It is deeper than western music because of the amount of layers presented through its frequencies.
ID – As you have played fusion a lot, have you ever tried to incorporate percussion instruments from other cultures into your playing?
Billy: Yes, congas, various hand percussion instruments and wind instruments.
ID – Fusion is such a loosely used term these days, what do you think is the true essence of a genre like fusion?
Billy: The performance of your inner personality: Who you are, where you’ve been and how you see life in the future is all a part of the Fusion platform to me. What is the end objective? To combine as many musical influences in real time as would be effectively possible.
ID – Since you are globally considered to be a corner stone in the drumming community, could you please definitively share a few fundamental focus areas that all drummers should always return to, no matter how far they have travelled on their drumming journey?
Billy: Remember who you are, where you come from and through these ideas, what your end product is. What you present to the listener is the culmination of you personal history. The first and most important person listening to you is “yourself’ as you can never lie to “YOU” thus, you must begin your performance by playing the truth. Do that and the rest of the world will believe you and probably respect you even if they don’t agree with your dogma.
ID – How was the idea of coming together for Artist Works Drums Academy conceived?
Billy: I was introduced to James Taylor by a mutual friend and colleague, Guy Barker. Guy told me that James was the son of a guitarist named Martin Taylor whom I have respected for his work and musical prowess for many years. James and I got to talking about the concept behind this project of Artist Works Music Academy and after a while I decided to sign on to it and give it a go’. I then was introduced to David and Patricia Butler and found that the match was very positive between us and here we are.
ID – All of you ( Thomas, Luis, you ) are very well versed with all styles of playing, how did you guys who teaches which style of drumming?
Billy: If you mean how was it decided who would focus upon what area of drumming: This was a decision made by the management of Artist Works Drums Academy.
ID – How has the reception been so far?
Billy: Positive but with personal apprehension as students are not so easily drawn into showing what they can do via video so, it’s an ongoing process to try to get them to warm to this idea. I think that I am gaining students who tend to watch the interaction between me and those who put their hearts on the line by providing examples of themselves on video. As soon as they get an idea of what they want to share with me some play and not speak while others will open up and let me try and help them by speaking and providing example of what they are seeking to accomplish.
ID – How different is it to teach through video exchange as opposed to being with the student?
Billy: Not difficult at all once I pull the time together to do it. I believe that I have a strong foundation that was set fort me by the producers of the Artist Works Drums Academy before my school platform was launched and I continue to become more comfortable as time goes on.
Thanks alot for your time Billy. Cheers & Happy Drumming.