After recording Quiet Nights in 1962, a Gil Evans session Miles Davis detested because of its light bossa nova feel, drummer Jimmy Cobb spent much of the 1960s recording with pianist Wynton Kelly in small group settings. In the 1970s, Jimmy recorded extensively with Sarah Vaughan and with jazz groups of varying sizes. In more recent years, Jimmy has toured and recorded with his group, Jimmy Cobb's Mob.
Late last year, Jimmy completed a ballad album with trumpeter Roy Hargrove [pictured] that's due soon, and he plans a tour with the So What Band, a group formed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue (1959). The So What Band features Wallace Roney (trumpet), Javon Jackson (tenor sax), Vincent Herring (alto sax), Larry Willis (piano), Buster Williams (bass) and Jimmy on drums.
In Part 4 of my interview with Jimmy, the legendary drummer talks about quitting the Miles Davis' quintet in the early 1960s, accompanying Wynton Kelly and Red Garland, and his favorite Kind of Blue tracks:
JazzWax: Why weren’t you the drummer on Miles’ second quintet, the one he started in 1964?
Jimmy Cobb: Because I quit. In 1963 we were on tour. In the middle of the tour, Paul [Chambers] and Wynton [Kelly] left because of a misunderstanding with Miles over money. But we had six more weeks to go. Paul [pictured] and Wynton wanted me to quit, too, to form a trio. I said, “Man, I can’t quit now. I need to do this tour.” I needed the money. So Paul and Wynton went back to New York and worked for a while around Brooklyn with [drummer] Arthur Taylor.
JC: Miles went out and got Ron Carter [on bass, pictured] and Harold Mabern [on piano] along with Frank Strozier on alto and George Coleman on tenor. That’s how we finished the tour. When we finished, I gave notice. I wanted to join Paul and Wynton to form a trio. It was time.
JW: What did Davis say?
JC: He said, “Cool. Go do the trio.” He asked me who he should get to take my place. We were out in L.A. at the time. I said, "About the best drummer I know out here is Frank Butler." So Miles called Frank Butler to record tracks for Seven Steps to Heaven. [By then Miles dropped Strozier and had Coleman play alto saxophone; Victor Feldman replaced Mabern.]
JC: Miles had some problems with Frank's drumming and didn’t want him around anymore after L.A. So when the group got back to New York [in May] to record the rest of Seven Steps, Miles hired Tony [Williams on drums] and Herbie [Hancock on piano].
JW: After you left the group, you recorded with Wes.
JC: Yes, I recorded Boss Guitar the day after I left Miles. Playing with Wes was great. We had a great time. Wes had about nine children he had to take care of. He had about three jobs, and only one of them was music. The other was construction and another was like a security guard at a milk factory. He slept just a few hours every day for 10 years, which is probably what made his heart bad. He worked too hard trying to take care of all those people. He didn’t read music but he could swing.
JW: Was Smokin at the Half Note in 1965 as exciting as it sounds.
JC: Oh yes. Wynton could play with anyone, and he sounded good all the time—whether he was sick, drunk, in any tempo. Always. He didn’t know any other way to play. Wynton was born in Jamaica and moved to New York soon after. He was raised in Brooklyn and was a child prodigy. He just went to the piano one day and started to play it. By the time he was 16 years old, Wynton had already made records [with Hal Singer in 1948]. The first time I met him with Dinah, he was 21 and I was 19. The first time we played together, I knew we were a perfect match. But that’s how he was with everybody. He could play with everybody and sounded great every time.
JW: What was Kelly like as a person?
JC: Wynton was a fun-loving guy. He’d give you his last $5 or the shirt off his back. And he was the “mayor” of his neighborhood in Brooklyn. Everybody knew and loved him. He’d play the numbers and then go to a happy hour at a bar from 5 to 7 pm. We used to hang out and do that and wait for the numbers to come out. He was a sweet guy. After that, he’d catch a cab and go into New York and play his ass off.
JW: You also played with Red Garland throughout your career. How did Red differ from Wynton?
JC: Red started out trying to play like Ahmad Jamal [pictured]. That’s what Miles was trying to fashion his original group on: Ahmad's sound. When Miles was in Chicago, he used to go to the Pershing every night and listen to Ahmad. Ahmad was his man. Red made albums that were exact duplicates.
JW: Red had punctuality problems, didn’t he?
JC: [Laughs] Red [pictured] could really swing. But sometimes he’d show up late. Other musicians on the date would get angry. When he’d arrive, he’d always tell some kind of astronomical lie. One time he came in late and said, “I’m sorry. I was coming down on the subway and some fool jumped off in front of the train and we had to wait until they got the guy out.” That was a lie because Red had a car!” [laughing]
JC: Casual. Another time, we were working with Miles at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. We opened on Friday, and Red didn’t get there until the midnight show on Saturday night. So we played a whole day without him. On another date, we played Birdland in New York. Red was uptown, at the back of the Apollo Theater, hanging out. Guys would be walking up to him saying, “Hey, Red, ain’t you working downtown?” Red would say, “Oh, yeah, yeah I’m about to go down there now.” I don’t know. He had some time thing with him.
JW: What did you think of Red's playing?
JC: Red was a Texas swinger. A real blues player. I played Red’s last recorded live gig. We went to Japan [in 1980 with Lou Donaldson on alto and Jamil Nasser on bass]. Jamil had to go get him at his house in Texas to bring him to the airport. It took him about a half hour for Red to walk through the airport to get to the gate. He was in such bad shape the first two or three days.
JW: Red had a rough few years there.
JC: Toward the end, Red would be at his house in Texas. His wife would make him his dinner. She’d say, “OK Red, I’m going to work. Your food is on the table.” She’d get back after work and the food would still be on the table. He’d be there drinking beer and stuff.
JW: Last question: What’s your absolute favorite track from Kind of Blue?
JC: Freddie Freeloader, which we played with Wynton. And Bill Evans’ Blue in Green. I liked all of that stuff Bill put together for the album.
JazzWax clip: Here's an amazing clip of Jimmy with John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers from April 1960 during the Miles Davis Quintet's European tour. The filmed performance of Walkin' and The Theme must have been on a night Miles was too ill to play, since he doesn't appear here or in the discography for that date...