As the best selling, highest regarded and most influential jazz album in the history of humanity, Kind of Blue needs no introduction. So maybe it's not so surprising that it didn't get one when Jimmy Cobb's So What Band played all five numbers from the album Saturday night at CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center.
It's hard to come up with enough superlatives about the original album that was recorded in 1959 by Miles Davis and the five musicians he had assembled. It is believed to be the best-selling jazz album ever and was certified quadruple platinum in 2008, a year before its golden anniversary. Rolling Stone ranked it 12th on its list of the 500 greatest albums. Critics practically trip all over their words trying to describe its significance not only in the world of jazz but to all kinds of music.
All of the artists who recorded Kind of Blue at the Columbia Records session have gone to that great Jazz Club in the Sky save one. Jimmy Cobb, who played the drums at the Saturday night concert, was the drummer on the original studio recording. Playing alongside him at CSUN was a group talented enough to rival the artists Davis had assembled: Christian Scott on trumpet, Dave Liebman on tenor saxophone, Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Larry Willis on piano and Buster Williams on bass.
At the appointed time, they walked on stage and, without saying a word, began to play. Nor did they utter a word after one number ended and before the next began. It was only after the last note of the 80-minute set had sounded that 84-year-old Cobb, looking out over a standing ovation, thanked the audience. Advised that there had been no previous introductions, he praised each of the other musicians just before the house lights came on.
Although you couldn't possibly have felt cheated by the vibrant performances of five of the greatest compositions in jazz--So What, Freddie Freeloader, Blue in Green, All Blues and Flamenco Sketches--it would have been fun and endlessly fascinating to hear Cobb talk a little about the album, the individual selections and his personal and professional connection to them.
For those just cutting their teeth on jazz, it might have been worthwhile to note that each number was based entirely on modality which, though not unique, was not particularly common at the time. Using modality, performers improvise within a set of scales that defines their parameters. It's an emphasis of melody over chord progression, giving musicians greater freedom.
Cobb and his group took full advantage. Liebman, on tenor sax, poured his heart and soul into each number. Scott's trumpet solos could pierce the theater with the purity of his performance or, with the aid of a mute, create sounds that were endlessly sweet and mellow.
The others also seized their improv opportunities to demonstrate their considerable prowess but probably no solo was received with more enthusiasm than Cobb's lone improvisation on drums, which would have been remarkable for someone half his age.