Jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb, who brought subtlety and swing to Miles Davis’ epochal “Kind of Blue” and many other classic albums, died at his home in New York on Sunday, according to NPR and other outlets. He was 91. His wife, Eleana Tee Cobb, said the cause was lung cancer.
While best known as a member of what aficionados call “Miles Davis’ First Great Sextet,” performing on albums like “Sketches of Spain” and “In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk,” Cobb and his Davis bandmates, bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Wynton Kelly, continued to play together until Chambers’ death in 1969, working with John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Wes Montgomery, Art Pepper and many others. Cobb also worked with singers like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington.
Born in 1929, Cobb was raised in Washington, D.C. and began drumming as a teenager. He performed with Billie Holiday in his hometown and later with bandleader Symphony Sid, where he performed with Davis and Charlie Parker. A tour with saxophonist Earl Bostic led to five years with Washinton, which is where he first performed with Kelly. Saxist Cannonball Adderly recruited Cobb to perform with him, and the two later performed together on “Kind of Blue.”
Cobb continued to tour, perform and teach well into the 21 st century, serving as a mentor for a new generation of jazz musicians like Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride and Brad Meldau, who performed in his band.
And while he tended to avoid the spotlight — he didn’t record as a bandleader until the 1980s — the subtlety of his playing is deeply ingrained in the foundation of modern jazz.
“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 by the Smithsonian, which named im an NEA Jazz Master in 2009. “You have to listen and just be a part of what’s going on.”