Top 10 Favorite Tracks Featuring Jimmy Cobb
Ironically, I began this list a few days ago as part of a determination to recognize some of my favorite living musicians while they’re still around. Obviously not fast enough in this case, as yesterday was time to say goodbye to maestro Cobb after 91 profoundly productive years. If all he’d ever done was play with Miles Davis for a few years, his place in the history books would be secure, but his pocket was more versatile than that, while at the same time being so swinging that it helped define a musical generation (when I was in my early 20s, I recall observing that there were young drummers on the scene in NY who sounded more like Jimmy Cobb than Jimmy Cobb did). Without any further ado, here is a sampling of some of my favorite Jimmy Cobb moments among many (and with apologies for all I omitted), presented in chronological order.
1 ) “I Cried for You” from Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury (and other compilations) (1952)
The “Jimmy Cobb Orchestra” (with featured soloist Paul Gonsalves on tenor saxophone) accompanies Dinah here on an elegantly swinging performance.
2 ) “Cobbweb” from Sophisticated Swing (by Cannonball Adderley) (1957)
How could I not include a) a tune written (by Eugene Wright) for Jimmy, and b) the most fabulous drum performance on his first studio session with Cannonball Adderley? Moot point – this uptempo romp features textbook hard-swinging drum work throughout, both soloing and accompanying.
3 ) “Love For Sale” from ’58 Sessions by Miles Davis (1958)
Yes, only one Miles Davis track here, and not even from his most famous records of the era (Kind of Blue, Someday My Prince Will Come, the live at the Blackhawk sessions), great and important records one and all. I couldn’t omit this, though, as the buoyancy of the rhythm section of Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy on this session is unlike anything I’ve heard before or since.
4 ) “Naima” from Giant Steps by John Coltrane (1959)
It’s always a little weird featuring a ballad on a list of great moments by a drummer, but his solid and sensitive playing here undergirds what is easily one of a small handful of superlatively important modern jazz ballad performances.
5 ) “Waltz of the Demons” from Fantastic Frank Strozier by Frank Strozier (1960)
Yes, I chose a Frank Strozier/Booker Little track as the one waltz to represent the drummer who played on “All Blues” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” by Miles, not to mention Bobby Timmons’ first version of “This Here.” This is the first of three consecutive tracks on the list to feature the unparalleled rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and maestro Cobb.
6 ) “Autumn Leaves” from Wynton Kelly! by Wynton Kelly (1961)
If there has ever been a more swinging example of medium-tempo acoustic jazz, then . . . well, there hasn’t so there’s no point in finishing this sentence. The cream of the cream of the crop, with perfect playing by Jimmy with both brushes and sticks.
7 ) “Four on Six” from Smokin’ at the Half Note by Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio (1965)
This is one of the studio tracks from a largely live quartet album, perhaps the most influential of the numerous albums featuring this trio backing another artist (and it was painful to omit the live Joe Henderson sessions off this list accordingly). As hard as it is to compete with the original version of this track from Incredible Jazz Guitar, this is sublime.
8 ) “Tom Thumb” from The Soul Man! by Bobby Timmons (1966)
A year before Wayne Shorter recorded a gnarly boogaloo version of “Tom Thumb,” he contributed it to this quartet session by his former Jazz Messengers bandmate Bobby Timmons, with Ron Carter holding it down on bass. The Latin-to-swing grooves Cobb plays are cracklin’ throughout, and this narrowly makes the list over the many other incredible collaborations between Timmons and Cobb (including the This Here Is Bobby Timmons album that deeply influenced my nascent sound as a youngster).
9 ) “Sunshower” from Rhythm-A-Ning by John Hicks and Kenny Barron (1989)
As much deserved attention as he gets for his swing feel, Jimmy’s feel on Latin-tunes was also beautiful, something repeatedly documented (check out, for example, his 1957 session accompanying Tito Puente). This two-piano quartet gets very sonically dense, and Jimmy manages to propel the groove without bogging anything down.
10 ) “Composition 101” from The Original Mob (2014)
I struggled between this and choosing a track (most likely “Tune 341”) from the Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb, a record that features some definitive Ellis Marsalis piano. But I had to include the one record under Jimmy’s name by this seminal unit of early 1990s NYC, which featured Doug Weiss, Peter Bernstein (who fortunately for us also recorded this quartet on his lovely Somethin’s Burnin’ record in 1992) and the at-the-time little known Brad Mehldau. This reunion album sounds and feels like slipping into an old, super comfortable pair of shoes if an old pair of shoes could retain its structural integrity for 20+ years – effortless swing and sensitive interplay throughout, and just one of numerous contributions Cobb made to the music as an octogenarian.
All good choices, Noah. I would add “With You I’m Born Again” from 2009’s “Jazz in the Key of Blue” featuring Jimmy with Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone, and John Webber. I think Jimmy’s wife suggested that he devote an entire album to brushes and the result is one of the most beautiful discs released in the past 20 years.