For over four decades now, drummers have focused on Billy Cobham's playing in much the way that a cat eyes a mouse – with rapt, laser beam-like intensity. But the fusion legend is the first to say that music is a communal effort, and if the whole band isn't working together as one, whatever skills he brings to the table are of little consequence.
“Sometimes you have individuals who are outstanding technical players, but they don't know how to function within a group." Cobham says. "People practice on their own for years and years, but when they get into a room with other musicians, they can be lost, and that's when the musical message is lost to an audience."
With that in mind, Cobham is launching the Art Of The Rhythm Section Retreat, a seven-day (August 4-10) immersive experience at the Chateau Resort Bechyne in the Czech Republic geared toward helping musicians better understand the basics of teamwork and collaboration. “The focus is on teamwork and multi-tasking," Cobham says, "getting people into working together to make a stronger foundation for playing music as a unit."
Breaking it down further, he explains, “You have your typical situation of a guitar, keyboard, drums and bass. You walk into a room with a bunch of people who have never played together before. Where do you start? How do you open up the conversation through your instruments and continue the dialogue through music? There are different ways to go about it, and that’s what I want to concentrate on."
Observing other musicians is key, Cobham notes – something he's put into practice in his own approach to playing. “I like to work with my colleagues and see what they’re all about, not just what they do best but what they don’t do well," he says. "Sometimes that’s where the rest mysteries are hidden. Also, I encounter a lot of competition in rhythm sections, so I like to look for ways for that energy to be channeled in positive ways that result in more creatively. That’s how you build a musical foundation that’s based around mutual respect.”
Joining Cobham in The Art Of The Rhythm Section Retreat will be members of his Spectrum 40 band as lead faculty: guitarist Dean Brown, bassist Ric Fierabracci and keyboardist Gary Husband. For more information on Billy Cobham's The Art Of The Rhythm Section Retreat and to sign up, visit the official website.
On the following pages, Cobham runs down his Top 5 Tips For Drummers.