The iconic jazz drummer, Jimmy Cobb, has died from lung cancer at the age of 91. He is best known for his masterful contributions to Miles Davis‘ magnum opus, Kind of Blue.
Remembered for his feathering cymbal work and light hands, Jimmy Cobb developed an idiosyncratic sound that cemented his position on the jazz music scene and resulted in him working with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.
Jimmy Cobb was the last surviving musician on what is often referred to as Miles Davis’ First Great Sextet, contributing to the jazz extraordinaire’s seminal record, Kind of Blue.
Born in Washington D.C. in 1926, Cobb began his phenomenal touring career with the saxophonist Earl Bostic, later attaining a travelling gig with Dinah Washington, pianist Wynton Kelly, and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.
It wasn’t until 1957 that he linked up with Miles Davis. Kind of Blue was recorded shortly after Cobb’s 30th birthday and the rest is history. He was paid to scale, which was only around $100 at the time of the record’s release, while he never received any royalties for his work.
The sensitivity of his drumming and his earful knack for sound bleeds through Kind of Blue. As a session musician, Jimmy Cobb worked with a countless number of high-profile musicians and jazz vocalists who helped him develop his malleable and exquisite style.
“I guess the sensitivity probably comes from having to work with singers, because you have to really be sensitive there. You have to listen and just be a part of what’s going on.”
Cobb continued to work brilliantly with Miles Davis, featuring on a number of his other records including Porgy and Bess (1959), Sketches of Spain (1960), Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), the 1962 live set Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall and Live at the Black Hawk sessions.
“Miles would tell us all little things to do and then have us work off his idea. He trusted all of us because he knew we were all good musicians. He didn’t really have to do anything else but say what he wanted done,” Jimmy Cobb told Billboard.
“One time he tried to tell me something about playing the drums with both hands, and I turned to him said, ‘Um, let me play the drums!’ But we were good friends, so I could say things like that to him without worrying about getting fired.”
Cobb continued to perform and teach drums for the rest of his life. His passion for music always showed and he remained “vibrant up until the end” (said his wife, Eleana Cobb).
Before jumping into the recording session of Kind of Blue, Miles gave Cobb all the advice he needed: “Jimmy, you know what to do. Just make it sound like it’s floating.”
And it really does feel like you’ve reached levitation when you listen intently to the timeless genius of Cobb’s feathery drum tinker backing Miles’ trumpet. Rest easy and fly high, Jimmy.