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Billy Cobham and the ‘little voices’ of Soho Parish School at Ronnie Scott’s

Schoolchildren join legendary drummer for performance at Soho jazz club

16 June, 2017 — By Elmira Tanatarova

Billy Cobham with Soho Parish pupils 

HE toured the world with Miles Davis and was praised by Rolling Stone magazine as one the most influential drummers of 20th century, but now Billy Cobham has achieved true greatness after performing at Ronnie Scott’s live with schoolchildren from Soho Parish School.

The school’s Year 6 pupils were invited to create and perform songs with the musician on Tuesday in a project funded by the famous Soho jazz club.

Mr Cobham, from New York, told Westminster Extra that working with the young people “gave him faith that there is a future for this generation”, adding: “There’s a director called François Truffaut – he made a movie called Small Change, and it was all about little people like this, and I just couldn’t believe how similar they were to the movie.

“They already had their ideas of who they wanted to be, and how they wanted to be and did it so well… it’s exactly them. When they sit down and they’re talking, they’re speaking in a way they believe to be mature. But they’re these little voices, and they make you think about how you used to be that way.

“The whole experience just reminded me of learning to play the drums with my best friend, who was called Keith. He’d just told me he couldn’t come to play because he got a drum set.

“I was nine, and I said Keith, can I come see? And I didn’t know then what was happening. But when I walked in and I saw this drum set I thought, ‘this is amazing!’, I’m gonna learn to play! And that’s just what this wonderful young teacher said, and it brought back all these memories.

“And I had no idea how I was going to learn how to play the drum, and all I could see was this amazing new drum set.”

Mr Cobham, 70, performed with Miles Davis on tour in the 1960s ands 70s and played on pivotal recordings. He also played alongside John McLaughlin, who co-founded the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971. In 1973, he became one of the few drummers to lead a band into the Billboard top 50, “with Spectrum”, his debut own-name album.

Soho Parish pupils played a series of self-written music on instruments ranging from drums to violins – all inspired by the themes of “dreams” and “ambitions”.

Peter Letanka, a freelance jazz musician, said: “Kids that were too scared to speak during the register were suddenly doing solos. They responded to every part of the experience.”

Soho music teacher Alejandro Pelaez said: “I don’t think this is a day any of us will ever forget. “This project definitely brought out a lot of musicality from the kids, which can be difficult because not everyone is as open or comfortable with embracing music or performance. But an initiative like this made it possible.”

Fatine Boumaaz, project manager at Ronnie Scott’s, said: “I thought it was an amazing idea to bring jazz to a young audience and every kid got to participate. It was wonderful.”


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