Jazz Warrior, Jimmy Cobb, at the right place at the right time

A Jazz master is on some of the most famous recordings ever

For Immediate Release

By Jazz Spy

June 23, 2012

Jazz Warrior, Drummer Jimmy Cobb-at the right places at the right time

A lot of life is ruled by chance, including little details like where we are born, whom we meet and how we respond to life’s challenges. And there is also the “X” factor, sometimes called a “lucky star,” that seems to shine on so very few.

How else do you explain the career of drummer Jimmy Cobb? In a recent phone call to his New York home I asked him if he had any inkling about the historic impact of being in the studio for the Mile Davis session, “Kind of Blue”.

“No there was nothing special that I noticed,” Jimmy stated. “I had been friends with Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, and it was he who got me in the band. Also Miles would check musicians out, he would carefully listen to them, and if liked you, you would be called. That session really turned out well. It seemed to appeal to every kind of person, even those who weren’t particularly jazz fans.”

Released on August 17th, 1959 on Columbia records, the album has been certified as “quadruple platinum” by the Recording Association of America. Unfortunately, I did not have weeks to discuss with Jimmy the details of the recording. For those who would like more information, there is an entire book on the session, “Kind of Blue, The Making of Mile Davis’s Masterpiece,” by Ashley Kahn. This book is a fascinating trip through the session. But it only explains a portion of what remains a mystery. How did Miles come up with a recording that would transform the feeling and sense of jazz for so many? What made this particular group of musicians so perfect and the project so revolutionary?
And how did Miles sense that creating a recording that slowed down the frenetic pace of bebop and reached out for a world sound would be both predicting and transforming the way so many thought about jazz? You can read the book for the answer’s to some of these questions, or you can chalk one up to the deep mystery at the heart of so much great art.

Another historic album session that Jimmy was part of was John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” On this record he played on just one track, the hypnotic ballad, “Naima”. Named after Coltrane’s wife at the time, the song became a spectacular demonstration of the originality of Trane’s writing and the deep spirituality in his music. And it called for a drummer with great sensitivity and touch. Jimmy got the gig through his friendship with Wynton Kelley. When I asked him if there was anything special about the session, he stated that the only instructions Coltrane gave were, “this is a ballad”. The magic of the song is just impossible to explain with words. And Jimmy seemed to be saying that there is little to explain how what seemed like an every day event for him, became an iconic moment for listeners.

Next Jimmy and I discussed his recordings with the great guitarist, Wes Montgomery. Jimmy explained why the career of Wes was cut short. “He worked three jobs each day, for years. In the morning he worked construction, in the afternoon he was a security guard, and at night he played guitar until all hours of the morning.”

We ended with a discussion of his time with the great singer Sarah Vaughn. “Sarah must have learned from her time in the Billy Eckstine band. Not only was she listening to all those amazing musicians in the band, but I think Billy was teaching her, how to form a phrase, how to create a sense of drama, and so much else. I played with her for eight years and she was a musician.Very few singers have ever developed her power and range. She even wanted to record with opera singers.”

Jimmy Cobb was in the right place at the right time. But he also had the adaptability to play with musicians of very different styles and passions. That takes a special player, and a special human being. And his grace, warmth and intelligence could not have hurt either. Speaking with him, I learned the importance of humility and the meaning of an art “warrior”. Having all your weapons is not enough. Having friends who are ready to recommend and promote you is the most important thing of all.

Ken Vermes is a writer and photographer and can be heard playing his sax in the alley’s of his favorite city.
Recreating Miles Davis' Kind of Blue
Jimmy Cobb's So What Band
feat. Jeremy Pelt, Javon Jackson, Vincent Herring, Larry Willis &
Buster Williams Monday-Tuesday, June 25-26, 8 & 10pm For tickets and
more information: 415.655.5600 or
Yoshi's San Francisco
1300 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

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