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’
In the run up to the recording, there was nothing to suggest that this session would differ much from previous studio dates. Davis, as usual, had issued minimal instructions in advance. His musicians frequently didn’t find out what they were playing, or with whom, until they walked into the studio.
On March 2nd, 1959, the first of two sessions that produced the album, the group gathered in the converted church in downtown Manhattan that served as Columbia’s recording studio and Davis handed out a few scraps of paper that he and pianist Bill Evans had been poring over.
One or two takes
Cobb didn’t even get that. He remembers being told before Blue in Green that “this is a ballad; make it sound like it’s floating”, and that was all. Every track was recorded in one or two takes, while the musicians were still learning the music.
It was an example of perhaps the trumpet player’s greatest quality as a band leader: he knew how to create situations where he would get honesty and creativity from his musicians. Few of them ever played as well again as they did when they played with Davis.
“He knew they was great enough to do anything he asked them to do, so that’s how it came out. John [Coltrane] was a phenomenal guy back then. He was still working on his own thing but he was able to do whatever Miles wanted, so the whole thing was beautiful.”
It is perhaps appropriate that Cobb’s memories of the Kind of Blue sessions are kind of dim. A jazz performance is the very definition of ephemeral, and only recording technology enables us to play it back again.
For Davis and his musicians, it was a moment in time that would never be repeated. Ever restless, the trumpeter did not stay in the cool waters of the Dorian mode for long, and by the time Kind of Blue was released, the 1960s were dawning, and the other two great innovators on the record, Coltrane and Evans, had both moved on to form their own groups.
Nor does it seem likely that there will ever be another jazz recording as famous as Kind of Blue. With so much music happening around the world, and technology now common in home studios that would have made the Kind of Blue engineers gasp with wonder, it’s hard to imagine any single recording emerging to distil the sound of an era like it did. So alone it stands, the greatest jazz album of all time.
And alone stands its drummer, trying to remember where he put the TV remote.
Jimmy Cobb appears at the Sugar Club, Dublin at 8pm today, with Pee Wee Ellis, Ike Stubblefield and Grant Green jnr. thesugarclub.com