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Jimmy Cobb, drummer on Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue,’ dies at 91

So What Band
Jimmy Cobb, right, performs with his So What Band at the Hollywood Bowl.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Jimmy Cobb, a percussionist and the last surviving member of Miles Davis’ 1959 “Kind of Blue” jazz album, a groundbreaking jam session that transformed the genre and launched the careers of musicians, 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 said 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 it was saxophonist Cannonball Adderley who recommended him to Davis, and he ended up playing on several Davis recordings.

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

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The album, released Aug. 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 didn’t like a chord change on the first attempt, he said.

Davis, who died in 1991, had some notes jotted down, but there weren’t 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 said.

'Kind of Blue'
“Kind of Blue,” the bestselling jazz album of all time, captured the genre’s transformation from bebop to something newer, cooler and less structured. “We knew it was pretty damned good,” drummer Jimmy Cobb said.
(David Sharp / Associated Press)

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

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

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

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Cobb would also work with such artists as with 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 American Southwest came to pay their respects in what many felt was a goodbye.


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