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Drummer Knew Iconic Album Was Pretty Good

Jimmy Cobb, 91, was the last of the band on Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 25, 2020 5:10 PM CDT

(Newser) – Jimmy Cobb, a percussionist and the last surviving member of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, a groundbreaking jazz album that transformed the genre and sparked several careers, died Sunday. His wife, Eleana Tee Cobb, announced on Facebook that her husband died at his New York City home of lung cancer, the AP reports. He was 91. Born in Washington, D.C., Cobb said in 2019 that 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 saxaphonist Cannonball Adderley who recommended him to Davis, and he ended up playing on several Davis recordings. But Cobb’s role as a drummer on the Kind of Blue jam session headed by Davis would forever change his career. That album also featured Adderley and John Coltrane. Released on Aug. 17, 1959, the album 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 a few notes but not 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. He and his bandmates knew the album would be a hit but didn’t realize at the time 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 to break stereotypes about jazz and black humanity. He performed well into his late 80s and played in the New Mexico Jazz Festival in 2017. Fans from throughout the Southwest came to pay their respects in what many felt was a goodbye.

(Read more obituary stories.)

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