Jimmy Cobb, a percussionist and the last surviving musician to play on Miles Davis’ groundbreaking 1959 jazz album Kind Of Blue, has died aged 91.
His wife, Eleana Tee Cobb, announced on Facebook that her husband died of lung cancer at his New York City home.
Born in Washington, DC, Cobb said 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 had recommended him to Davis, and he ended up playing on several Davis recordings.
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 August 17 1959, captured a moment when jazz was transforming from bebop to something newer, 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 did not like a chord change on the first attempt.
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.
Cobb recalled: “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.”
The percussionist and his bandmates knew the album would be a hit, but did not realise at the time how iconic it would become.
Jimmy Cobb, whose subtle and steady drumming formed the pulse of some of jazz's most beloved recordings (including 'Kind of Blue') died at his home in Manhattan on Sunday. He was 91. https://t.co/FfjqXpagt2.
— NPR Music (@nprmusic) May 25, 2020
“We knew it was pretty damned good,” Cobb joked.
It has sold more than four 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 the jazz musicians to break stereotypes.
Cobb would also work with such artists as Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Wynton Kelly and Stan Getz. He also released a number of solo albums.
He performed well into his late 80s and played in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2017, as part of the New Mexico Jazz Festival.
Jazz fans from throughout the American south-west came to pay their respects in what many felt was a farewell to the man.
Cobb released his last album, This I Dig Of You, with Smoke Sessions Records in August 2019.