Jimmy Cobb: Standard-Bearer
AAJ: A lot of the greats that you played with and grew up with, so to speak, have gone on.
JC: For me, most of 'em haven't gone on 'cause I've got 'em right here. (points to his temple). I got Wynton [Kelly], I got Miles, I got Trane, I got Paul [Chambers], 'cause you know whenever I see some things it brings other things back to my mind, you know, and the way we played in certain places and stuff like that.
AAJ: In the forward to the book Kind Of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (Da Capo, 2000) by Ashley Kahn, you wrote that when you listen to all of those men you mentioned, you hear other people in their playing.
JC: That's right. It's the history of the music in all that music. For instance, I knew where Cannonball [Adderley] came from 'cause he loved Benny Carter. Benny Carter was his mentor. I knew the history of Trane, when he was back playing alto in Philadelphia, until he heard Charlie Parker and then he said "I'd better give the alto up. I know different guys' histories. When I have clinics sometimes guys ask me about players like that. I say it's always good to know the history because if you know the history, if you're gonna be improvising something, you've got a basis, the base to deal with. [You've] got [a] more fruitful mind for improvisation.
AAJ: Like Charles Mingus said: you just can't improvise off nothing. You've got to improvise off something.
JC: That's right. You got to have something. So the more you got the more you can do. 'Cause certain things appear and you know they go with certain other things. You know like, doo bop shoo bop, doo bop shoo bop, doo bop shoo bop. Don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. So it's that kind of connection.
JC: I listen to the guys that I know from a long time ago that are still alive. I listen to Ben [Riley], I listen to [Ed] Thigpen, I listen to Roy Haynes because he's just a little bit older than me and we have a good rapport. Chico Hamilton, you know, all those people. And there's a host of young boys. There's a few that I had the good grace to teach. I like Lewis Nash, I like Steve Gadd. I met him when he was a little boy. His mother used to bring him by a place we played in Rochester when I was with Dizzy Gillespie's small band.
AAJ: When you teach and give lectures or seminars, is there any one lesson you try to teach everyone in approaching jazz?
JC: I usually tell 'em that if you're gonna do this, stay here [in New York] and get all that's available that you can learn because when you get out here you gonna have to be able to do everything. It's not gonna be just jazz a lot of times, you might have to play something else that might sustain your life. This is the nature of this game.
So I usually tell guys if they wanna do this to learn all you can while you're in school and be serious about what you're doing, 'cause if you're not, why do it? I don't know if they like it when I say that, but the truth is the truth. Me, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I knew some good people; they put me in touch with some more good people, so I've been able to maintain this music thing without going to something else. There have been some really sparse times but I think I was able to creep through it a little bit.
AAJ: So you've been creeping for a half-century.
JC: Oh yeah, so far. I've just been trying to do the best I can, trying to stay healthy enough to do it.
AAJ: So what do you have in store for the next fifty years?
JC: Well, I don't know. I think the latter part will be me resting somewhere. I'm gonna do this as long as I can do it. I've had friends of mine drop dead on the bandstand. So you do what you do 'till you can't do it no more. That's my intention.
Jimmy Cobb, Marsalis Music Honors (Marsalis Music/Rounder, 2005)
Cannonball Adderley, Sophisticated Swing: The EmArcy Small Group Sessions (EmArcy/Verve, 1995)
Sarah Vaughan, Complete: Live in Japan (Mainstream/Mobile Fidelity, 1973)
Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, Smokin' at the Half Note (Verve, 1965)
Wes Montgomery, Full House (Riverside/Concord, 1962)
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959)