Arnett Cobb, the hard-driving, flamboyant saxophonist whose antics were a highlight of the Lionel Hampton orchestras of the 1940s but who for the last 30 years had to perform on crutches because of an automobile accident, is dead.
Cobb was 71 when he died of kidney and respiratory problems in a Houston hospital Friday night. He had been in a coma for a week, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Cobb, a native of Houston, worked with drummer Frank Davis and trumpeter Chester Boone when he was in his teens and then with trumpeter Milton Larkins before joining Hampton’s band in 1942 as a replacement for Illinois Jacquet.
Downbeat magazine called him “a musical monument” and Stereo Review commented on his “robust Texas style.”
He left Hampton in 1947 to form his own group, Arnett Cobb and the Mobb, with which he recorded for Apollo records.
Even as musical styles changed, Cobb insisted on playing traditional jazz.
“I never got into be-bop or any of those other styles. I’m a straight-ahead jazz player. I think you should stick with what you do best, no matter what line of work you’re in,” he explained.
Cobb’s career was briefly interrupted in 1948 when he underwent spinal surgery and then suffered a severe setback in 1956 after a car accident left him permanently disabled.
Beginning in the 1970s, after a 1973 Town Hall concert in New York, he enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, particularly in Europe and Japan.
He continued to perform into the late 1980s, taking part in a 1988 jazz cruise in which Times jazz critic Leonard Feather said Cobb “let the passion transcend the pain” during his performances.