Jimmy Cobb still 'Kind of Blue' after 50 years

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The Independent Culture

Fifty years on, drummer Jimmy Cobb still can't believe what he, Miles Davis and five other jazz musicians achieved over two days in a converted church in New York.

"Nobody could have conceived that 50 years later this would be going on," he said of the extraordinary success of "Kind of Blue", the best-selling jazz album ever which still sells in the thousands every week.

Many music critics revere it as a masterpiece. Rolling Stone magazine this year listed it at number 12 on its list of the 50 greatest albums of all time - in any style - ahead of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and The Beatles' "Abbey Road".

And its appeal has crossed over to lovers of both classical and rock music too.

Cobb, still robust at 80, is the only surviving member of the group led by Davis, at the height of his career on his crisp and soulful trumpet, and with saxophone legends John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly and bassist Paul Chambers.

They entered the Columbia Records studio on 30th street in Manhattan on March 2, 1959 and returned for a second session on April 22. The album was released that August.

Davis only told them what he wanted when they arrived.

"It was just something Miles had on a slip of manuscript paper," he told AFP in an interview at his hotel in Madrid, where he is performing at the city's jazz festival this month.

"In the whole album I don't think there were over five changes... So the guys had to really work to build something from that little bit."

Most of it was done in one take, "because that's what Miles liked. If you keep doing it over it gets to be stale a little bit. He figured your first shot is your best shot."

"Kind of Blue" was another venture by Davis into "modal jazz", which emerged in the 1950s and in which improvisations are based on scales, or modes, rather than a sequence of chords, and which allows more freedom of melodic expression.

Cobb, who had already been with Davis for more than a year and had previously played with Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, said none of them had any notion they were creating jazz history.

"That never came up. It was just another great Miles Davis recording and that everybody played well on," he said.

"If Miles even had an inkling that that was happening he would have asked for a truckload of money and four Ferraris sitting outside. That's the way he thought about things."

They began to realise it was "something special" when it was still selling well one year after its release.

Cobb believes part of the appeal was that "it was different from what was going on at the time," which was "show tunes or popular tunes, with a lot of chord changes and stuff like that.

"This didn't have all that. This was just a kind of subdued, easy listening kind of stuff that you didn't have to be really steeped in the music to enjoy."

The late music critic Robert Palmer called it a "monument to sheer inspiration and creativity. Every solo seems to belong just as it is... 'Kind of Blue' flows with all the melodic warmth and sense of welcoming, wide-open vistas one hears in the most universal sort of song."

Cobb's favorite track is "Freddie Freeloader", the only one that featured Kelly, whose more bluesy piano style Davis felt suited that particular piece better than the delicate artistry of the classically trained Evans.

A few years later, Cobb, Kelly and Chambers split from Davis, who "went in another direction with the music", and formed their own trio.

Cobb is now on a world tour with his current six-piece band "So What", the title of the opening track on "Kind and Blue" and a 50th anniversary tribute to the album which he said changed his life.

"So far we've been doing very well. We've been having capacity crowds, standing ovations, a good response, great hotels - something I thought wasn't happening any more, especially for jazz musicians."