The great Jimmy Cobb has died, aged 91. He was the last surviving member of the dream team that played on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue – the jazz album that even non-jazz fans know and love (and probably own).
Cobb was one of the great jazz drummers – a master of sensitivity and taste, developed, no doubt, through his early work accompanying some of the great jazz vocalists of the era (Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday) and graduating on to his role as one of the top bop players and a part of the ‘cool’ era of jazz too.
He played on several of my favourite records – a handful of Coltrane and Wynton Kelly dates, one of Art Pepper’s early classics, gems by both Cannonball and Nat Adderley and – among many other long relationships and one-off classic spots – he’s a crucial component on a tight run of the best Wes Montgomery recordings.
But if he had only played with Miles Davis he would have written his way into the history books. For it is Cobb on several other key Davis recordings – the Porgy and Bess album, Someday My Prince Will Come, the live dates that were captured for Jazz at The Plaza, Miles & Monk at Newport, In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at The Blackhawk and then of course the legendary Sketches of Spain.
But it’s Kind of Blue that really is the defining piece of work. So much so that when friend and local legend of drumming, Wayne Bell, wrote on his Facebook page, “That snare drum drop into the first solo in So What. Jimmy Cobb. RIP” I instantly got chills. Because I know that hit. I know that sound. Can feel it without even hearing it. I was taken there in an instant. The way Cobb sets it up. Everything about So What – as the first track on the biggest selling jazz album of all time it is, in a way, everything. Talking about Jimmy Cobb on Kind of Blue and, within that, Jimmy Cobb on So What is like talking about so many great Beatles drum tracks, or within that picking a single Ringo favourite, the song Rain or Here Comes The Sun or Strawberry Fields…
Talking about Cobb on So What and thinking about his playing on Kind of Blue is to remember that great authority and sensitivity. Never in the way. Always leading the way.
Cobb was playing right through his life as leader and sideman – releasing one of the handful of great records under his own name as recently as just last year, at the age of 90. He would lead a band with the same sensitivity that he used to make his name as one of the great sidemen of all time. He could swing, play slick with brushes and quick with sticks. He never got in the way of the song but set up the path for the music always.
R.I.P. Jimmy Cobb
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