Chatting With Jimmy Cobb, Kind of Blue's Last Surviving Player

Remembering the greatest jazz album of all time, 50 years on

Cobb's first involvement with Davis was helped along by his good friend Adderley. "At that time," Cobb says, "it was Joe and Red Garland and Coltrane, Cannonball and Miles. So a lot of times Joe wouldn't show up for gigs for one reason or the other. Or he just would be late. So Cannon was nervous, because he needed the money to pay off his bills, you know. So he used to tell me, 'Why don't you come around and sit with us, you know, and if Joe don't show, you can play, man. You'd be right there.' So I said, 'OK, I'm not really doing that much anyway.' So I go do that a few times. Then one time Joe didn't show up for a record date, you know, and I was there at the record date, and the record date was Porgy & Bess."

But Cobb's invitation to officially join the group came later. "I'm still not in the band," he continues. "But a little later, Miles talked to me. He says, 'You know, Joe's not in the band anymore. I want you to be in the band.' I said, 'OK.' So he told me all the particulars and stuff. Now it's six o'clock in the evening, and I'm in New York. So he's calling me and I don't know where he's calling me from. So I said, 'OK. Well, when you working? Where are you working?' And he said, 'Actually, we're working tonight.' I said, 'Oh, really? Where?' And he said, 'Boston.' So he's probably in Boston already. So I say, 'Boston?' He said, 'Yeah.' And it's 6:30, man. I say, 'Well, what time do you start?' He says, 'Nine o'clock.' I said, 'Nine o'clock? How am I going to get to Boston by nine o'clock, man?' He said, 'Man, you want the gig, don't you?' I say, 'Yeah, man.' I say, 'OK, I'll get there as fast as I can.'

"So I packed up the stuff, and at that time they had like a shuttle going from New York to Boston—55 minutes, you know. Takes me probably 55 minutes to get to the airport to fly 55 minutes, and a few more minutes to get from the airport in Boston to George Wein's club. That's where they were working, Storyville. So I get up there after scuffling like, you know, scuffling my heart out to get there, and they're playing on the stand, because it's probably 10 o'clock by now. So when I get there, they're playing the ballad 'Round About Midnight,' so I went up quietly and set up the drums. And, you know, there's an interlude in there."

Here, in a sixth-floor East Side conference room, Jimmy Cobb hums the "Round About Midnight" melody.

"I started right there. I played that with them. I was in the band—no rehearsals, no nothing. So that's the way it started, man."

The ending, however, has yet to be written. Jimmy Cobb, suitably enough, is at the forefront of the 50th-anniversary DVD. This month, the drummer will be recognized as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazzmaster. November brings appearances at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, as well as a number of dates in Germany. In January, Jimmy Cobb will turn 80 years old; in February, he'll be leading a new outfit, the So What Band, as part of Kind of Blue's continuing golden-anniversary celebration, still officially 11 months away.

But despite all the attention that comes with this territory—and having provided percussion on a work of acclaimed and enduring genius—it's the people he remembers, not the songs: "I'm proud to be here, man. I'm proud to be going on 80 years old. I never thought I'd be 80 years old. I'm here. I'm sorry that all my friends are gone, you know, but I've got them here."

And with that, the drummer pats his chest pocket. His hand lays over his heart, as well as his new iPhone, which presumably calls his daughter one more time.

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