By Jon Cobert
Self-expression. What is it, exactly? There are billions of people on this planet, and every one is unique. We all have our own view of the world, and our own way of communicating our thoughts and feelings. There are ballerinas, artists, sculptors, orators, architects, and poets. People who express themselves in solitude, and others who perform in front of thousands.
I am a musician.
I have been for as far back as I can remember. There was always a piano in the house, so that’s what I gravitated towards for my own personal form of self-expression. Of course I can speak and write and draw and even paint a little (no dancing please!), but music has always been the most personal and effective way for me to express myself.
Playing an instrument is like learning a language; you have to practice and play for long enough that it becomes second nature. If you have to think about what your fingers are about to do, then you’re not really making music; you’re kind of painting by numbers. When I play, I feel like the music is already out there, and I’m collecting it and letting it be heard through the piano.
As a musician, I’m the sum of all the influences I’ve encountered over the years. It’s been quite an eclectic journey. I started taking piano lessons when I was 9. Ted Harris, my wonderful teacher, came to the house every Wednesday afternoon. He taught me how to read music, how to play scales, and also how to improvise, since he was a composer and a jazz pianist.
I learned Haydn, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Bartok, and Schoenberg. Then Fats Waller, Scott Joplin, and Earl “Fatha” Hines. After that we went into popular music: Beatles, Bachrach, Beach Boys.
Mr. Harris showed me how to appreciate music, and how to communicate it my own way. He encouraged me to improvise, and I spent many hours at that piano, with the lights out, just experimenting and discovering new harmonies and melodies.
When I got into college, I had to decide if this ability and love of music could be my living, or just something to do after work. At NYU, I had two majors, Music and Biology, because I liked science and wanted to see if I could do that for a living. My passion was never in my schooling; I always had rehearsals with my band after school, and that’s where my heart was. I continued to study Bio and Music, waiting for a “sign” to help me decide.
In my Junior year, my band signed a management deal with Record Plant Studios, a famous recording studio where all the big names did their albums. John Lennon was recording his Wall and Bridges album there, and I soon began recording and playing with him. So much for the Biology major. That was the sign I needed, and there was no turning back.
Today my musical life is rich and varied. I play many styles, and do various things. I write music for TV and radio, commercials and sports themes. I write songs, also in many styles, and I play lots of different types of engagements. I play in several bands in clubs around the area, doing rock and roll, soul, jazz, and blues (my own band is called Cobert Operations). I tour the country with Tom Chapin, playing music for families as well as folk music for grown-ups. I play in Churches and Synagogues and yes, even Carnegie Hall.
And I play and sing solo at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua every Thursday night. It’s the solo work that gives me the most freedom of self-expression. When I play with a band, arrangements have to be agreed upon, so the musicians are on the “same page”, and it sounds cohesive. While that is enjoyable, and carries its own set of skills like listening and collaborating, it does limit my freedom.
When I’m solo, I can interpret the songs however I feel, depending on my mood and the mood of the crowd. I can take a Beatle song and do it bluesy, or in the style of Leon Russell, just for fun. I am truly the luckiest man to be able to express myself freely, and earn a living at the same time.
Jon Cobert will be playing and singing in the Tap Room at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua every Thursday from 7 to 11. He’ll be the musical director for A Tribute to Lead Belly at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 7 and 8, with his band, Cobert Operations, at 12 Grapes in Peekskill on Dec 12, at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in White Plains on Dec. 23 and 30, starting at 6, and with Tom Chapin at the Turning Point in Piermont, Dec. 27 and 28. You can check his website at www.joncobert.com or his facebook page.
Fun Facts about Jon Cobert…
Jon Cobert is a New York-based composer/arranger/pianist/session keyboardist/vocalist. He got his Music Theory and Composition degree from N.Y.U., and began his career with a bang, recording and playing live with John Lennon (you can see him in the movie “Imagine”). Other recording and touring credits include John Denver, Klaus Nomi, Laura Branigan, Phyllis Hyman, Al Green, Henry Gross, Linder Eder, Leslie Uggams, Harry Chapin, and Dion, among others. He has played with Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Richie Havens, Pete Seeger, and many more. Since 1988, Jon has been working with Tom Chapin, recording, touring, producing, writing, and arranging. He has earned five Grammy nominations for his work as producer on Tom’s recordings. In addition to being a sought-after studio keyboard-player, Jon has also been writing and arranging music for TV and radio, and some of his work includes: The ESPN Baseball Tonight Theme, ESPN College Football Gameday Theme, Dr. Pepper, Pepperidge Farm, Rolling Rock, Budweiser, Arm and Hammer, Juicy Juice, Activia, Burger King, Wendy’s, Capital One, Dannon, and many others.