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Blue Notes: by Robin Lynam

Drummer Jimmy Cobb is the last surviving member of the Miles Davis band that made one of the most popular and influential albums in jazz: Kind of Blue.


It seemed none of the other musicians were born to make old bones, with the borderline exception of Davis, who died in 1991 aged 65.

The effects of accumulated substance abuse finished off pianist Bill Evans at 51, a stroke killed saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley at 46, liver cancer took saxophonist John Coltrane at 40, and epilepsy did for pianist Wynton Kelly (who played on only one track on the album, ) at 39.

The youngest casualty was Cobb's rhythm section partner, Paul Chambers, one of the finest bassists in jazz, lost to tuberculosis at just 33.

Cobb, 85, appears to have lived a healthier life than his bandmates, and is still working hard both as a performer and as a music educator. He - justifiably - trades on to some extent, leading two ensembles which play the music on the album and other pieces from the Davis repertoire.

The So What Band duplicate the sextet format, and play larger gigs. For clubs and other engagements suitable for a small group, he performs with a quartet called 4 Generations of Miles, comprising a changing cast of musicians who played with the trumpeter during his career.

Guitarist Mike Stern is a constant, but depending on their availability you may hear either Buster Williams or Ron Carter on bass, and either George Coleman or Sonny Fortune on sax.

Cobb also leads another five bands: the Coast to Coast Allstars, The Jimmy Cobb Quartet, Jimmy Cobb's Reminiscence Band, The Generations Band and Cobb's Mob.

is the latest release from Cobb's Mob, a quartet which made its recorded debut in 1998 with , with a line-up comprising the drummer, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist John Webber and pianist Richard Wyands.

For those who have heard the band only on CD - which would be most of us - the title of the Mob's new album may create some confusion. Pianist Wyands, 85, has been replaced by Brad Mehldau.

The title, however, is correct: Cobb's Mob began gigging before the recording of . Mehldau, Bernstein and Webber were Cobb's students at New York's New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music at the time.

is a mixed bag of standards and compositions by the band members. A succession of rim shots from Cobb on gets the album off to a sprightly start, and the tune also features his trademark swinging ride cymbal playing.

An unusual standard choice is , a 1950s number from the musical with a tune borrowed from Russian romantic composer Alexander Borodin, but the Mob make it work.

Cobb contributes two originals: the bluesy and the ballad , on which Bernstein's lyrical playing features prominently; the guitarist also solos effectively on his own .

Cobb lays down a fast Latin groove for Mehldau's , for which Bernstein lays out, reducing the group to the pianist's favourite format, the trio.

Webber's frenetic , which closes the album, takes the group into bebop territory, and demonstrates that at 85 Cobb can still drive a band as hard as he could half a century ago.

Three classic albums featuring Cobb's drumming.

  • (1959, Riverside): saxophonist Adderley, who had already worked with Cobb, advised Davis to employ the drummer. He plays on the first four cuts of this album in a band co-led by Adderley and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The sessions took place just weeks before was recorded.
  • (1959, Columbia): Cobb's performance on is the least lauded partly perhaps because he has always been more interested in keeping a band swinging than in drawing attention to his own playing. But his contribution here is crucial. As pianist Herbie Hancock later said of the opening track, : "When Miles comes in and starts his solo and Cobb hits that crash on the down beat, you can't get any better than that."
  • (1962, Riverside): Wes Montgomery's first live album featured the guitarist trading solos with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, backed by the former Miles rhythm section.