By Miriam Longobardi
“Pardon me, but do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?” was a question once posed to Jon Cobert on the platform of the Chappaqua train station after months of commuting to New York City in jeans and a tee shirt amongst business people dressed in suits. A professional musician since age 13 when he received his first electric organ, he seemed an unlikely commuter. He was not heading to Wall Street but rather a studio in Manhattan where at that time he worked creating jingles for commercials for NBC Sports, Budweiser, Burger King, Dr. Pepper, Capital One, Wendy’s, and baseball fans will recognize his music on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight theme among many others.
While in college at NYU studying music theory and composition, he also worked as a studio musician playing piano, writing songs and recording; this connected him with John Lennon in 1974. In addition to playing keyboards with Lennon on stage and recording, they became friends and hung out in the city often, walking around and having dinner from time to time. “John was just a regular guy,” Cobert said. He had been minoring in biology thinking of possibly pursuing medicine as a fall- back career but working with Lennon felt like a sign that music was his true calling and he has never looked back. An accomplished pianist, he also plays accordion, bass, guitar, drums, and he sings. “Stick an instrument in front of me and I’ll play it,” he told me.
With a state-of-the-art recording studio in his Chappaqua home, he is also a successful producer having produced twelve of Tom Chapin’s albums for which Cobert received five Grammy nominations. He began working with Chapin when Chapin was creating his first children’s album and needed a pianist. Cobert was recommended and they have worked and toured together ever since and have a strong friendship. “Tom’s been a big influence and is a great guy.” He added, only half-jokingly, “I’m often asking myself, ‘What would Tom do?’”
He occasionally stops by some of the local open mic jams where he finds the spontaneity of being thrown together with a bunch of guys with whom he has never played to improvise and suddenly lead a small band a source of growth as a musician. “You’re hit with a surprise and you just have to adapt and react.” Whether he is performing alone or with a group, he enjoys playing all styles of music and craves variety.
Today Cobert continues to tour with Chapin and other musicians and play locally with his own band Cobert Operations and others, such as fellow Chappaqua resident Chris Fox’s band Mojo Monde. He feels more in touch with his own personal style with all the increased opportunities to sing and perform as a front man than working as a studio musician.
His CD “Here’s Your Canoe” show- cases his considerable vocal talents with original music combining upbeat grooves and soulful lyrics with that timeless quality of feeling instantly familiar. He performs on piano and vocals every second Wednesday of the month at 12 Grapes in Peekskill (next performance is December 17with Top Shelf). His website joncobert.com gives you a complete list of upcoming performances and a fascinating history of legendary artists with whom he has worked over the years.
A career musician who has performed alongside the best and entertained millions, Jon Cobert continues to learn and grow. The best advice a friend gave him was never turn anything down, no matter how small the job seems and regardless of the caliber of the other musicians. “You never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re going to learn.” That advice has paid off for Cobert, and the music he continues to create is proof.