William Emanuel Cobham Jr. (born May 16, 1944) is a Panamanian-American jazz drummer who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s with trumpeter Miles Davis and then with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. According to AllMusic‘s reviewer, Cobham is “generally acclaimed as fusion’s greatest drummer”.
He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2013.
Born in Colón, Panama, Cobham moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, when he was three. His father worked as a hospital statistician during the week and played piano on weekends. Cobham started on drums at age four and joined his father four years later. When he was fourteen, he got his first drum kit as a gift after being accepted to The High School of Music & Art in New York City. He was drafted in 1965, and for the next three years he played with a U.S. Army band.
After his discharge, he became a member of Horace Silver‘s quintet. He played an early model electric drum kit given to him by Tama Drums. He was a house drummer for Atlantic Recordsand a session musician for CTI and Kudu, appearing on the albums White Rabbit by George Benson, Sunflower by Milt Jackson, and Soul Box by Grover Washington Jr.
Cobham started the jazz rock group Dreams with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, and John Abercrombie. He moved further into jazz fusion when he toured with Miles Davis and recorded Davis’s albums Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. In 1971, he and guitarist John McLaughlin left Davis to start the Mahavishnu Orchestra, another group that fused rock, funk, and jazz. Cobham toured extensively from 1971 to 1973 with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which released two studio albums, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1973), and one live album, Between Nothingness & Eternity (1973). The studio versions of songs on the live album were released on The Lost Trident Sessions (1999).