Jazz Great Jimmy Cobb Dies at 91

The drummer was the last surviving member of the Miles Davis band that recorded “Kind of Blue” in 1959.

Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” on which the late Jimmy Cobb played drums, is the best-selling jazz album in history, with more than 4 million copies sold. (AP file photo/David Sharp)

(AP) — Jimmy Cobb, a percussionist and the last surviving member of Miles Davis’ 1959 “Kind of Blue” groundbreaking jazz album that sparked several careers, died Sunday.

His wife, Eleana Tee Cobb, announced on Facebook that her husband died at his New York City home from lung cancer. He was 91.

Born in Washington, D.C., Cobb told The Associated Press in 2019 he listened to jazz albums and stayed up late to hear disc jockey Symphony Sid playing jazz in New York City before launching his professional career. He said saxophonist Cannonball Adderley recommended him to Davis, and he ended up playing on several Davis recordings.

Jimmy Cobb in 2019. (Courtesy of Smoke Sessions Records via AP)

But Cobb’s role as a drummer on the “Kind of Blue” jam session headed by Davis would forever change his career. That album also featured Adderley and John Coltrane.

The album, released on Aug. 17, 1959, captured a moment when jazz was transforming from bebop to something cooler and less structured.

The full takes of the songs were recorded only once, with one exception, Cobb said. “Freddie Freeloader” needed to be played twice because Davis didn’t like a chord change on the first attempt, he said.

Davis, who died in 1991, had some notes jotted down, but there were no pages of sheet music. It was up to the improvisers to fill the pages. “He’d say this is a ballad. I want it to sound like it’s floating. And I’d say, ‘OK,’ and that’s what it was,” Cobb recalled.

The album received plenty of acclaim at the time, yet the critics, the band and the studio couldn’t have known it would enjoy such longevity. He and his bandmates knew the album would be a hit but didn’t realize at the time how iconic it would become.

“We knew it was pretty damned good,” Cobb said.

It has sold more than 4 million copies and remains the best-selling jazz album of all time. It also served as a protest album for African American men who looked to Davis and jazz musicians to break stereotypes about black humanity.

Cobb would also work with such Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Wynton Kelly and Stan Getz. He also released a number of albums on his own.

He performed well into his late 80s and played in Albuquerque in 2017, as part of the New Mexico Jazz Festival. Jazz fans from throughout the Southwest came to pay their respects in what many felt was a goodbye.

Cobb released his last album, “This I Dig of You,” with Smoke Sessions Records in August 2019.


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