In conversation with jimmy cobb (part three)
by Ralph A. Miriello
Below is the third and final installment of Ralph Miriello’s in-depth interview with Jimmy Cobb. Click here for parts one and two. Cobb’s wife -- and producer -- Eleana Tee was also present at the interview, and we thank her for her help in arranging this discussion. Cobb will be performing at Iridium from April 10-13 and again from May 9-11.
There is often great debate about who influenced Miles most about his modal approach to Kind of Blue George Russell, Gil Evans or Bill Evans or some combination of all three. What is your take on this?
There you go all three.
You have played with some of the music world’s most creative composers and arrangers is there anyone that stands out in your mind as a true musical genius?
[As we mentioned before] George Russell, Gil Evans and Oliver Nelson. I didn’t play with him but you can’t leave Duke Ellington out of that. Quincy Jones. Thad Jones.
What did you like about Duke’s particular compositions?
Duke was the man of his era. He wrote most of the music that people played [at the time] Him and little [Billy Strayhorn].
One of my most cherished records from those times is the “live” Smokin’ at The Half Note with the trio and the great Wes Montgomery. Every time I listen to “No Blues” or “Four on Six” I can feel the energy and enjoyment that you guys had playing together. Can you shed some light on this performance and working with Wes?
Well, Wes was another genius. He sat there and played all that stuff with his thumb. That’s genius right there. The things he was playing, guys would look and say you can’t do that. They didn’t think it was possible what he was doing.
Do you think Wynton Kelly is under rated as a piano player and what was his greatest strengths on the keyboard?
Yes. He could play with anybody, accompany anybody and swing with anybody at all times -- sick, drunk, whatever.
What ultimately broke up this trio?
Well I think Paul died first. After that we went through different bass players. Then Wynton died so that took care of it. Wynton died and I had just started with Sarah Vaughn. I was in California and he was in Canada. They say he called up his girl friend and said he wasn’t feeling well. He used to do that at certain times with us, because in the later part of his life he started getting seizures. It was something that he didn’t have all his life.
You worked nine years behind “Sassy” Sarah Vaughn. What is most memorable about your time with her?
Every night we used to marvel at her. She could do everything good. Hell of a range and could hold a note for an hour and she was a musician. We got to go to a lot of good places. It wasn’t the regular jazz [clubs].
At the 75th anniversary concert for David “Fathead” Newman you played along with contemporaries like Phil Woods, Marcus Belgrave, Benny Powell and Howard Johnson as well as a revitalized Mr. Newman. Is it still fun to play with the elder statesmen of jazz?
Yeah. Because there ain’t too many of us left. We got the same feeling about the music.
You have played with so many greats over the years. Is there any one that you wished you could have played with?
There are a lot of people. I had the opportunity to play with Benny Goodman once at a college. They needed a drummer quick, so that was an experience. I always like Benny Goodman. I played with Charlie Parker for a couple weeks in a Symphony Sid All Star kind of a thing. I must have been about 23 or 24 at the time. The Symphony Sid All Stars were Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson and Toots Thielemans -- he had just come from Belgium and was playing guitar.
You have certainly set a high mark for your drumming predecessors. Are there any young cats that you are particularly impressed with now?
There is bunch of them out there. There is a lot of them that I don’t even know. Lewis Nash, some guys younger than that, Billy Cobham -- that’s my man he calls me his uncle -- Lenny White. Jack DeJohnette. He is my neighbor in Woodstock. I just saw Steve Gadd, his mother brought him by [in Rochester, NY] when I was in Dizzy Gillespie’s band. They had a sit in sort of jam session on Saturdays and his mother used to bring him to those, so she asked Dizzy if he could sit in and Dizzy said yeah so I let him sit in and he played a set with Dizzy. He was about twelve years old.
As a leader you are playing with a combination of new comers as well as journeymen. On your New York Time session you play with Javon Jackson and Christian McBride as well as veteran Cedar Walton. How is it playing with the“new” kids on the block?
I like it. They feel the same way I do about the music. A lot of young guys want to [play with me] because I played with certain people and they want to be a part of that [history]. I got a Russian guitar player, his name is Illya and every chance he gets he wants to play with the older guys because he is disappointed that he wasn’t born in the era that I was.
What is most different about playing with a guy like Paul Chambers as compared to a younger guy like Christian McBride?
Not that much difference. They are both good. They are both very good. Paul is probably the reason why McBride plays the way he does. Because all the bass players that I know revered Paul. Buster Williams, Peter Washington -- they all love Paul and ask me about him.
Your most recent working group, Cobb’s Mob, is made up of fellow musicians John Webber on bass, Peter Bernstien on guitar and your old friend Richard Wyands on piano. Is this an attempt to revive the straight-ahead guitar quartet format reminiscent of your work with Wes. Where do you want to take this?
Yeah, they wanted to play that music. It is just something we do to have fun. I am not trying to revive all that. We’re just having fun, because we know we can play that way if we want to.
After a lifetime of dedicating yourself to the art of jazz, what is your proudest achievement ?
I don’t know. To still be here. To still be above ground.
What inspires you to want to play or record a particular musical piece?
I probably have to like to do it, if it has already been done. Certain [signature] pieces that distinguish you over the years… sometimes I play some of those things just to remind myself of maybe Wynton and Paul, or Cannonball, Bird , Max…I got a lot of inspiration just from being around them guys..
As a seasoned professional, do you have any advise for young upcoming players that want to make music their life?
If I am in a clinic, and they ask me the same kind of question, I say when I am in school I want to learn everything I can learn. Because when you get out of school, if you plan to make this your life’s work and you have to get out into this world and this is going to be dependent of you paying your rent and all that stuff, you had better know everything you can know. Because it’s hard enough and you want to be prepared. So whenever your break comes your way you ‘ll be ready for it, because it doesn’t happen that much. You’ve got to be ready when it comes.
What can we expect next from the indefatigable Jimmy Cobb?
I am going to try to make more records. I got two little girls and I want to leave them something. The youngest one is named Jamie who is twenty four …and the oldest one named is Serena who is twenty six, she sings and dances, acts and plays the piano. Eleana, their mother, produces my records .
Some of my most recent recordings are New York Time with Christian McBride, Javon Jackson and Cedar Walton. We will be playing this album at the Iridium jazz club in New York on April 10-13th, 2008.
I made West of 5th”,a trio album with Hank Jones on piano and Christian McBride on bass and recently an album with Roy Hargrove on trumpet, Ronnie Mathews on piano and Peter Washington on bass called Cobb’s Mob, all produced by Eleana and all on Chesky Records. In 1983 Eleana produced an album with me where Gregory Hines is singing called So Nobody else Can Hear and we may try to re-release that one soon.
I am also working as an instructor on the Drum Channel and I do drum clinics with students.
Well the beat goes on for Jimmy Cobb. Thank you Jimmy, Thank you Eleana.