Jimmy Cobb: the sole survivor from ‘Kind of Blue’
In 1959, two days in a New York studio changed jazz forever – for the drummer chosen by Miles Davis, however, it was ‘just another date’
Jimmy Cobb performing in San Sebastian, Spain, last year. Photograph: Rafa Rivas/AFP/Getty Images
Jimmy Cobb performing with Miles Davis and bass player Paul Chambers at the Apollo Theater, New York, in 1960. Photograph: Herb Snitzer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
The passage of time, and the shocking mortality rate among jazz musicians in mid-20th century New York, have conspired to leave drummer Jimmy Cobb in a unique position. At 84, he is the last living link to what is, by common assent, the most celebrated and influential jazz recording of all time, Miles Davis’s modal masterpiece Kind of Blue.
The series of untimely deaths that robbed the music of John Coltrane (died 1967, aged 40), Paul Chambers (died 1969, aged 33), Wynton Kelly (died 1971, aged 39), Cannonball Adderley (died 1975, aged 46), Bill Evans (died 1980, aged 51), and eventually the indomitable Davis (died 1991, aged 65) mean that, for more than 20 years now, Cobb has been the sole survivor of that fabled 1959 recording session.
Relaxing in front of the television in his New York apartment with the phone cupped to his ear, Jimmy Cobb sounds tired – tired, principally, of not being able to remember much about that session.
“I can’t remember yesterday,” he says, laughing.
Not that the Washington DC-born drummer hasn’t been stout in defence of the Kind of Blue legacy: for many years, he has led his So What band, named after the album’s defining track; he recently wrote a preface to writer Ashley Khan’s forensic book about the session (which, in any case, has enough detail to satisfy the most inquisitive listener); and any announcements that precede his live appearances nowadays usually get to Kind of Blue within the first sentence or two.
But it would be understandable if the burden of trying to recall in detail two days work he did 55 years ago sometimes weighed a little heavy on his shoulders. So is he tired of talking about Kind of Blue?
‘Just another recording date’
“Yes,” he admits bluntly. But he follows his admission with the hearty laugh of one who knows that his illustrious past is not something from which he could escape, even if he wanted to.
However, his memories of the two sessions that produced the album are hazy at best, and he says it is hard for him sometimes to know what he actually remembers and what he has subsequently gathered from all the analysis to which his most famous two days’ work has been subjected.
“It was just another recording date,” he says. “I was probably really nervous, because I was going on a recording date with Miles Davis and, you know, you have to be a little nervous. You just want to be able to perform to the best of your ability. But it was just another date. Most of Miles’s recordings were good. Nobody in the band would ever have thought that, 55 years later, it would be as strong as it still is.”