Jimmy Cobb, the jazz drummer and last surviving player on Miles Davis’s seminal 1959 album Kind of Blue has died from lung cancer at age 91.
Cobb was key in helping to achieve the cool disposition of a handful of Davis’s masterworks, including 1959’s Porgy and Bess, 1960’s Sketches of Spain, 1961’s Someday My Prince Will Come, the 1962 live set Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall and Live at the Black Hawk sessions.
But it was his cymbal work and light pulse on Kind of Blue, the album that cemented Davis’s reputation as the coolest of jazz cats and cited as the best-selling jazz record ever released, for which he will be best remembered.
“Miles would tell us all little things to do and then have us work off his idea,” Cobb told Billboard in 2019.
“He trusted all of us because he knew we were all good musicians. He didn’t really have to do anything else but say what he wanted done.”
Cobb, born in Washington DC in 1929, began his touring career with the saxophonist Earl Bostic, later joining the vocalist Dinah Washington, pianist Wynton Kelly, and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.
According to his website, he also played with Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey and Dizzy Gillespie before joining Davis in 1957.
Explaining the exquisite sensitivity of his drumming, he once explained that playing with some of jazz’s most renowned vocalists had helped him to develop his style.
“I guess the sensitivity probably comes from having to work with singers, because you have to really be sensitive there,” he said in an oral history for the Smithsonian. “You have to listen and just be a part of what’s going on.”
Cobb died surrounded by family at his home, his wife, Eleana Cobb, told the New York Daily News.
“He was a very special and unusual person – a gifted musician with natural talent, like an athlete. And a gifted human being with a great, happy personality,” Eleana said.
“He played all around the world. He was vibrant up until the end,” she said. “It’s a big deal that he’s gone. It’s very painful. I’m a little bit in shock.”