Billy Cobham was born William Emanuel Cobham on May 16, 1944 in Panama but moved to New York City with his family during his early childhood. A drummer from his youth, he attended New York’s High School of Music and Art. Graduating in 1962, he played in a U.S. Army Band from 1965 to 1968, followed by joining Horace Silver’s ensemble for a year. He went on to work with Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Scott and George Benson.
Branching out into jazz fusion Cobham blended elements of jazz, rock and funk to create a signature sound and recorded with the Brecker Brothers in their 1970 group Dream. From here he performed with John Abercrombie, then touring extensively with Miles Davis and recording on may albums including A Tribute To Jack Johnson.
By 1970s, Cobham was working with John McLaughlin, co-founding the Mahavisnu Orchestra, released his first solo debut titled Spectrum, and played with Carlos Santana, George Duke and Jan Hammer. It was during this period that he began recording a series of groundbreaking fusion records and experiencing astral projections during his concerts.
He would record extensively for the fusion-oriented CTI Records, while simultaneously becoming a member of the New York Jazz Quartet. By the Eighties he was working with Jack Bruce & Friends, joined up with the Grateful Dead for a performance at Radio City Music Hall, formed his Glass Menagerie, releasing two albums with Michael Urbaniak, Gil Goldstein, Tim Landers and Mike Stern. The Nineties saw Billy with an all-star cast Live At The Greek with Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, Najee and Deron Johnson.
In the millennium a number of solo albums have followed with drummer Billy Cobham releasing more than 30 recordings under his own name, and continuing to record, perform and teach.
Dennis Chambers was born May 9, 1959 in Baltimore Maryland. He started playing drums at the age of 4 and his ardent interest in drums at that age propelled him to keep playing whenever he got a chance. A child prodigy started performing in clubs at the age of 6, despite his lack of formal training. Within a short time, he had been invited to perform in most nightclubs in Baltimore area.
After graduating from high school in 1978, Chambers, then 18, joined George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, a band he played with until 1985. He was recruited in 1981 by the Sugar Hill Label to be their house drummer and played on many Sugar Hill releases including, “Rapper’s Delight”. A sought after first call drummer for his technique and speed, as well as his ability to play “in the pocket”. His session work and performance have included John Scofield, George Duke, The Brecker Brothers, Santana, John McLaughlin, Mike Stern, CAB, Craig Howe, Sugar Hill Gang and his own band Niacin, among others.
Dennis went on to gain membership with Special EFX for two years, then joined David Sanborn, and performed on the critically acclaimed Maceo Parker live album “Roots and Grooves” with the WDR Big Band. He has played with most of the major jazz-fusion musicians.
Drummer Dennis Chambers has appeared as a featured drummer on the late Show with David Letterman’s Drum Solo Week II, alongside other such notable players Tony Royster Jr., Gavin Harris, Neil Peart and Stewart Copeland. He continues to perform, tour and record.
Bobbi Humphrey was born Barbara Ann Humphrey on April 25, 1950 in Marlin, Texas but was raised in Dallas. She studied classical and jazz styles before graduating from Lincoln High School in 1968 and then continued her studies at Texas Southern University and Southern Methodist University. When Dizzy Gillespie saw her play at a talent contest at Southern Methodist, he inspired her to pursue a musical career in new York City.
Humphrey followed his advice, getting her first big break performing at the Apollo Theatre on Amateur Night. She eventually began playing regularly throughout the city. By 1972, she was recording for the Blue Note Jazz label, one of the first female instrumentalists to do so. Since her debut for the label she has performed with Duke Ellington, Lee Morgan, George Benson and Stevie Wonder amongst a host of other musicians.
In 1976, she was named Best Female Instrumentalist by Billboard. In 1994 Humphrey launched her label, Paradise Sounds Records, releasing Passion Flute, which continues to be one of her best-selling recordings. She has played the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Montreux Jazz Festival and the Russian River Jazz Festival in Northern California, as well as other venues around the world.
Flautist and vocalist Bobbi Humphrey has a dozen albums in her catalogue, having taken a break from recording from 1979-1989 and has not recorded an album since her best selling Passion Flute in 1994. She continues to perform fusion, jazz funk and soul jazz music styles, compose, produce and tour.
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Denny Zeitlin was born on April 10, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in the suburb of Highland Park. He began improvising on the piano at age two and was composing before elementary school. His father played piano by ear, his mother was his first piano teacher. He began formal study in Western classical music at age six, switching to jazz in the eighth grade. By the time he was in high school, he was playing professionally in and around Chicago.
While in college at the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign he was playing with Ira Sullivan, Johnny Griffin, Wes Montgomery, Joe Farrell, Wilbur Ware and Bob Cranshaw. Denny’s mentors included Billy Taylor and George Russell, while Bil Evans supported him by recording his composition “Quiet Now” and giving title to his 1970 album.
Zeitlin began his recording career when signing with Columbia Records in 1963 while studying medicine at John Hopkins University. His debut as a feature pianist was on the Jeremy Steig album Flute Fever along with Ben Riley and Ben Tucker. After moving to San Francisco in 1964 he recorded four albums as a leader for the label. He stood out from the crowd for the unbridled creativity of his work, the richness of his harmonic palette, and the sheer beauty of his piano tone.
Between 1968 and 1978, Denny ventured into electronic keyboards, synthesizers and sound altering devices, integrated them into his music and resulted in the release of Jazzy Spies in 1969 on the first season of Sesame Street. It featured the voice of Grace Slick. He would go on to be awarded Down Beat’s highest award for his Expansion album, score the music for the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and by the end of the decade returned focus to acoustic music.
Since 1968, Zeitlin has been on the teaching faculty at the University of California, San Francisco as a clinical professor of psychiatry, has a private practice, and is the founder of Control-Mastery Theory. He does all this while pursuing his passion for jazz, touring internationally and recording more than thirty-five albums to date tha include upwards of 100 original compositions. He is a first-place winner of the Down Beat International Jazz Critics Poll in 1965 and 1974.
Michael Leonard Brecker was born on March 29, 1949 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in the suburb of Cheltenham Township. Exposed to jazz at an early age by his father, an amateur jazz pianist, he grew up as part of the generation of jazz musicians who saw rock music not as the enemy but as a viable musical option. He began studying clarinet then moved to alto saxophone in school, and eventually settling on the tenor as his instrument of choice.
Graduating high school he entered Indiana University for a year before moving to New York City in 1969. He carved out a niche for himself as a dynamic and exciting jazz soloist and first made his mark at age 21 as a member of the jazz-rock band Dreams that included his older brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Billy Cobham. Though the band was short-lived it attracted Miles Davis to attend some of their gigs.
Brecker went on to work with Horace Silver and Billy Cobham before teaming with his brother to form the Brecker Brothers. Following the jazz-rock trends of the time, but with more attention to structured arrangements, a heavier backbeat, and a stronger rock influence, the band stayed together from 1975 to 1982, with consistent success and musicality.
Michael was in great demand as a soloist and sideman from mainstream jazz to mainstream rock and played on over 700 albums with James Taylor, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Lou Reed, Donald Fagen, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa, Parliament Funkadelic and Joni Mitchell as well as Frank Sinatra, Herbie hancock, Chick Corea, Chet Baker, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorious, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. And that is the short list.
During the early 1980s, he was a member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live Band, co-led the group Steps Ahead, he recorded a solo album ning him back towards more traditional jazz. As a leader throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Michael won multiple Grammy Awards of which one was for Directions In Music: Live At Massey Hall with Herbie Hancock and Roy Hargrove. He consistently sold out his solo and group tours in major cities worldwide.
While performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 2004, Brecker experienced a sharp pain in his back. Shortly thereafter in 2005, he was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome or MDS. Unable to find a matching stem cell donor, and an experimental partial match that proved unsuccessful, he played his final public appearance with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall in 2006.
On January 13, 2007, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker passed away from complications of leukemia in New York City. He was awarded two posthumous Grammy awards for his involvement on his brother Randy’s 2005 album Some Skunk Funk, his final recording, Pilgrimage that same year, and again posthumously awarded two additional Grammy Awards for this album in the categories of Best Jazz Instrumental Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album, bringing his Grammy total to 15. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music and inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
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