‘Kind of Blue’ drummer still keeping time as album turns 60

David Sharp

AP – As legend has it, Miles Davis assembled a super group of jazz musicians in a New York studio and recorded a bunch of songs without retakes. They left Columbia’s 30th Street Studio having no idea that their work would become one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

Drummer Jimmy Cobb said that’s mostly correct.

He recalls one song required a second try. And while they may not have known they were making history, they understood they’d created a hit with Kind of Blue.

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

Cobb, 90, of New York, is the last survivor of the musicians who assembled for Kind of Blue — saxophonists Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane; pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly; bassist Paul Chambers; and, of course, trumpeter Davis, and drummer Cobb.

Drummer Jimmy Cobb from the Jimmy Cobb Trio performs at the Peperoncino Jazz Festival. PHOTOS: AP

The album, released 60 years ago, on August 17, 1959, captured a moment when jazz was transforming from bebop to something newer, cooler and less structured.

On the album, Davis experimented with “modal jazz” by using simpler “modes” instead of traditional chord progressions, giving his performers more freedom to improvise on the album. Sound engineers captured the sessions, held on two days, with a superb hi-fi recording.

Cobb grew up in Washington DC, listening to jazz albums and staying up late to hear disc jockey Symphony Sid playing jazz in New York City before launching his professional career. He said it was Adderley who recommended him to Davis, and he ended up playing on several Davis recordings.

He’s still making music.

On August 30, he’s releasing Remembering U with Japanese pianist Tadataka Unno and Italian bassist Paolo Benedettini, and guest appearances by saxophonist Javon Jackson and the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

As for Kind of Blue, Cobb said Davis assembled musicians who had chemistry and understood what he required for his minimalist approach in the studio.

Davis craved authenticity and spontaneity, and his approach in the studio achieved it, Cobb said.

Davis 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 recalled.