By 1960, drummer Jimmy Cobb was recording with different ensembles led by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. In between, Jimmy recorded with a range of singular artists, including pianist Bobby Timmons, whose cured funk-gospel sound would have a liberating effect on piano playing and jazz in general.
During the months between 1959 and 1961, Jimmy's reputation as a consummate jazz drummer grew and his sound became even more confident and refined. He also had a front row seat to many of jazz's biggest turning points during this period.
In Part 3 of my four-part interview with the legendary drummer, Jimmy talks about pianist Wynton Kelly, playing in the John Coltrane Quartet, accompanying pianist Bobby Timmons, the interactions on tour between Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt, how Coltrane came to solo on Someday My Prince Will Come though no longer in Miles Davis' group, and Davis' ill-fated Quiet Nights session:
JazzWax: There was a bit of a mix-up on Kind of Blue with Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, wasn't there?
Jimmy Cobb: That’s right. Miles had Wynton Kelly [pictured] in to the studio to play Freddie Freeloader [on March 2, 1959]. Wynton came in from Brooklyn but when he showed up, Wynton saw Bill there and didn’t understand what was happening. By then he was officially in the sextet.
JW: What did he say to Davis?
JC: He didn’t say nothing to Miles. He said to me, “Man, what’s happening? I thought I was on the gig.” I said, "You are, man, don’t panic. Bill’s just going to play something [So What] and you’re going to play something. So don’t worry about it. See, everybody winds up getting paid.” [laughing]. That cooled Wynton off right away. We was friends. I could talk to him like that. I had known Wynton since he was 19 years old.
JW: In late 1959, creative differences were creating a bit of friction between Davis and John Coltrane. You recorded with Coltrane on Coltrane Jazz. Davis didn't mind?
JC: Nah. That's just the way it was. Trane [pictured] wound up leaving Miles [in 1960] because he wanted to go in a different direction. The beauty of playing with Trane is that you could play anything you wanted. He didn’t care. He just wanted you to swing him up. Do what you had to do. He used a whole lot of trios that included Cedar Walton, Arthur Taylor and Paul Chambers. Most were with Paul. He and Paul were living together at the time. [Photo: Jim Marshall]
JW: What did Coltrane think of your playing?
JC: Trane dug my drumming. We was pretty cool. One time when Elvin [Jones] couldn’t make it, I think it was around 1961, Trane called me to go to Chicago with him in the dead of wintertime. I said, “Trane, listen, baby, you know after one tune I’m wet to start out. If I go to Chicago like that, I’m going to catch pneumonia and die out there.” I said “Look man, I love you, but I’m not going to go out there and die.” [laughs]
JW: In January 1960 you played on This Here Is Bobby Timmons. What was Timmons like as an artist?
JC: Bobby reinvented the piano on that thing. He had a real country feeling about a lot of that. Gospel, funk and everything. We had a lot of fun. Earlier in his career he played with Dinah [Washington]. We had him out on the road for about a minute.
JW: How was it different to play behind Timmons and Bill Evans?
JC: It’s two totally different ideologies. Bill comes off like a European kind of classical thing. And Bobby [pictured] comes off with a down home funk kind of a thing. Country style. Usually, in a situation like that, the drummer doesn’t have to adjust that much. You’re just playing rhythm, whether it’s Bill, Bobby or anyone else. I remember Bobby came into the studio on that record date and says, “I got this little thing I want to play." And he starts singing it to me [Jimmy scats a rhythm]. I say, wait a minute. Then Bobby tells the bass player [Sam Jones], "I want you to play this" [Jimmy scats a bass line]. He just comes in with those down home things and put them together. [laughs] We tried to do the best we could, and it came out all right. Bobby was a good player, and he matured a lot, man. He played in a lot of different meters.
JW: Timmons' hands were large, weren't they?
JC: Yeah, yea, he had kind of big hands. Not like [Harold] Mabern’s, but they were big. Bobby [pictured] was a shy little guy when I first met him. He was still like a little boy. But Bobby and I worked a lot together. I made four records with him.
JW: When Coltrane left the Miles Davis sextet in 1960, Davis replaced him with Sonny Stitt. On recordings, they sound like they’re a million miles apart.
JC: They were. Miles wanted Sonny [pictured] to play like Bird [Charlie Parker] on that tour. Sonny wanted to play alto and tenor. But Miles didn’t want him to play tenor. Miles said, “Man, I’m going to step on that tenor.” Sonny would get all upset and say, “Oh, man, Miles.” That was Miles’ way of letting Sonny know how he felt. Sonny took the tenor on tour with us anyway. [Photo: Herman Leonard]
JW: Were they getting along?
JC: Yes. It wasn’t like that. Everything was cool. Why?
JW: When you listen to the recordings, Miles' sound is distinctly 1960 but Sonny's playing sounds like it's 1949.
JC: [Laughs] That’s how Miles wanted Sonny to sound, like Bird. When we were on that European tour, every time Sonny put the alto in his mouth, audiences went nuts. That’s what Miles wanted. That’s why Miles didn’t want him to play tenor. Miles dug that showtime alto sound. There was no animosity there.
JC: Mine. I thought I had made a mistake by hitting the
cymbal too high up and too hard. I thought the engineer might not have been able to control it. But during the playback, everyone liked it just as it was. [Pictured: Miles Davis and Jimmy Cobb]
JC: By the time we recorded that album, Coltrane was working as a leader. On one of the days we recorded [March 20th], Trane was playing at the Apollo Theater. Miles told him: “Come down to the recording session, if you can, between your thing and play something.”
JW: At this point Hank Mobley was on tenor saxophone.
JC: That's right. So after Hank played his solo on Someday My Prince Will Come, we looked through the glass of the engineer’s booth and there was Trane. In the middle of the song, Miles waved for him to come into the studio. So Trane [pictured] took out his horn and played the part he played, the second solo.
JW: It was a pretty stunning solo. How did Hank feel about that?
JC: Hank was already done. He had already put his solo down. I don't know how he felt about it. You have to understand, Miles did that to a lot of guys. He had a working band once with both Sonny Rollins and Trane. At that time, Sonny was the tenor saxophone colossus. Trane wasn't that well known yet. Sonny got up there and like smacked Trane every night they played until they made Tenor Madness [in May 1956]. I think Sonny was kind of sorry he had him on that date 'cause he was about to get to his peak on that one.
JW: Was that a big turning point for Coltrane?
JC: When Trane got into playing the things he got into [in 1959], I think that blew Sonny’s mind. That's when Sonny went up on the [Williamsburg] Bridge. Getting back to Sonny and Trane, Miles would do that on the bandstand to keep the edge going. He hired them both. They both knew they were going to be there. Miles would play the outside of a tune and sit down or walk to the bar and let them have at it. [Pictured: Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins]
JW: What went wrong on Quiet Nights in 1962 with Gil
Evans? Not much was recorded.
JC: I don’t know. I think that bossa nova stuff was brand new to Miles. I was just there trying to do what he wanted.
Tomorrow, in Part 4, Jimmy talks about why he wasn't a member of Miles Davis' second sextet, his albums with guitarist Wes Montgomery, further reflections on pianist Wynton Kelly, and playing with Red Garland.
JazzWax tracks: One of Coltrane's most interesting recordings from his Atlantic period was Coltrane Jazz. His tribute to Sonny Rollins, Like Sonny, expresses a pureness and simplicity, while the album's ballads are offbeat and provocative. On this 1959 album, you also get to hear Jimmy Cobb playing a range of fascinating rhythms and figures.
Bobby Timmons' This Here Is Bobby Timmons is essential for any jazz collection. You can read more about the album in my post here. Unfortunately, the album isn't available as a download, and remastered versions of the CD are available only as imports.
JazzWax clip: Here's an audio clip of Someday My Prince Will Come. Note Jimmy's dramatic cymbal strokes at the start. It's almost as if musical fingers were tapping impatiently waiting for that prince. Then listen to Jimmy's magnificent shuffling brushwork behind Wynton Kelly and Miles Davis. Pay particular attention to the stark contrast between Mobley's mannered and controlled solo and Coltrane's flamethrower that follows, all but erasing Mobley's earlier effort...