Jimmy Cobb just may be the ultimate swinger. In his long career as a jazz drummer, he has been a signature contributor to recordings from such iconic musicians such as John Coltrane, Wynton Kelley, Wes Montgomery and many others. His tenure with the great trumpet player Miles Davis in the 1950’s resulted in several great recordings, the most famous and influential being “Kind of Blue” in 1958. Over time this recording has achieved mythic status, largely in part to its great compositions and legendary band members. The original recording featured Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone), Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).
On a very cold February evening last week, Cobb and his So What Band performed the music from this record at The Egg in Albany. It was a packed house with a notable mix of generations in the audience. The band took the stage and immediately launched into the classic intro to “So What.” This is a very unique composition for a number of reasons; for one, it is a song that features the bass player performing the melody rather than the horns, and it is the rally cry for modal playing that will be really explored in the 1960’s. On bass this evening was the great Buster Williams, a very notable leader and sideman. The horn section featured Javon Jackson (tenor), Vincent Herring (alto), and Jeremy Pelt (trumpet). Each soloist displayed a respect for the original individuals on the recordings, yet brought a wealth of unique vocabulary to their improvisations. On piano this evening was Larry Willis, who did a great job of supporting the horn solos, as well as providing many excellent solos throughout.
The following selection was “Freddie the Freeloader,” a medium tempo blues with a great groove. The rhythmic interplay between Willis on piano and Cobb on drums was a great counterpoint to the ideas of the horn soloists. This was immediately followed by the moody composition “Blue in Green.” Pelt did a wonderful job in emulating Miles Davis’s Harmon mute on the melody and capturing the spirit of this mysterious classic. What was most interesting about their rendition was the double-time feel that Cobb applied rhythmically throughout. He used blast sticks rather than brushes, which gave the tune a nice drive, yet still staying in the ballad mode.
Next up was the ¾-time composition “All Blues,” which featured all of the bandmembers. It should be noted that this is where the overall mix of the room began to really settle in. In the first few numbers, there were a few minor issues with the bass and piano levels, but now things were balancing overall. It’s always a challenge to achieve the right balance with acoustic instruments.
“All Blues” was followed by “Flamenco Sketches.” This was another song in which the ballad was interpreted with a double-time feel that, at moments, evolved into a bossa nova rhythm. This was followed by the Davis classic closing number “The Theme” – the only selection not on the original recording. Based on Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” the tune featured Cobb on his only solo of the night, a number of tasty choruses from the legend himself.
At the concert’s conclusion, Cobb did his only speaking of the evening – introducing the members of the band and thanking the audience for being there and “not being home watching TV.” After some bows, the band performed an encore of the classic “On Green Dolphin Street,” complete with the Davis turnarounds at the conclusion of each soloist’s improvisation.
The evening was a rare opportunity to hear a creative interpretation of one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time. What made this so unique was having the spirit of Jimmy Cobb on stage to drive it.
Review by Pete Sweeney
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “How many steps has Cobb lost in 50-plus years? None, it turned out, but it really boiled down to: How much would Cobb and the newcomers echo the originals? And, how much of their own personalities would they dare or manage to bring to this iconic music? Both questions turned into a big ‘so what’ when they started. The heads of the ‘Kind of Blue’ songs may sound simple to play, but the So What guys made the tougher task of improvising on them with personality seem easy. They could have played like a reel-to-reel tapedeck, replicating the original renditions every jazz fan knows by heart. Instead they played like the E-Type Jag of tribute/legacy bands.”
JIMMY COBB’S SO WHAT BAND SET LIST
Freddie the Freeloader
Blue in Green
On Green Dolphin Street