Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 12:00 UK

Veteran survivor of 'Blue' group

Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb is taking his So What band on a Kind Of Blue tribute tour

The 50th anniversary of jazz's best selling record was celebrated at the Hay festival with the surviving member of the group which made it.

Jimmy Cobb, now 80, was drummer with Miles Davis's band on the landmark Kind Of Blue.

"It was a magical day," he recalled. "Something was supposed to happen - and it did."

Miles Davis
Kind Of Blue became the best-selling jazz album in history, with around 4m sales to date
The five tracks were recorded in a converted church in New York on first takes in just a few hours in March and April 1959
As well as Miles Davis on trumpet (died 1991) and Cobb, the band was John Coltrane (sax, d 1967) and Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley (sax, d 1975), Bill Evans (piano, d 1980) Wynton Kelly (piano, d 1971), Paul Chambers (bass, d 1969)
Critics lauded its simpler, more melodic, so-called 'modal' style of playing after the trend of faster 'bop'

"It was quite an easy album to make. At the time, nobody knew it was going to be any different from any other Miles Davis album."

Despite taking only a few hours to record over two sessions - nearly all of it in a first take - it went on to become a critical and commercial success, with 4m sales over half a century.

"If I knew how that happened, I'd probably be going to the race track right now," joked the Washington DC-born musician.

The album is regularly listed in all-time greatest list, with Rolling Stone magazine ranking it 12th on a list of the 500 best albums.

In 2002, it was selected for preservation in the national recording registry at the US Library of Congress.

Cobb spoke of how Davis was intent on a more minimal, melodic music - with few chords and scales, but very little had been written down and the sessions, two weeks apart went "like clockwork".

"He said 'you play these three chords for as long as you want.' That's how simple it was.

"Miles had a basement at his house and the guys would go around.

"They quickly went through some ideas he and (pianist) Bill Evans had and brought in a piece of manuscript. I think I was the first to arrive, to set up the drum kit."

He wanted someone to make him feel good, to make the band feel good - and that you'd show up
Jimmy Cobb on Miles Davis

"There were some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world there so the music wasn't that hard."

He said Davis was a "mischievous kind of guy", who liked to get a reaction.

Cobb, regarded as having a "butterfly's touch" on the drums, got his first chance with the trumpet legend for the album Porgy And Bess.

He had been recommended by sax player Cannonball Adderley when Davis' previous drummer Philly Joe Jones started missing dates.

"Miles had a way of hiring people. He wouldn't hire anybody that he could bounce something off and get nothing back," said Cobb.

"You had to be able to swing the band - you just had to be able. He wanted someone to make him feel good, to make the band feel good - and that you'd show up."

There was inevitably more anecdotes about Davis, with Cobb joined by filmmaker and friend of Davis, Dick Fontaine, who said he had "fought an heroic guerrilla battle against rock 'n roll" to help jazz survive the early 1970s.

Cobb said: "He was hanging out with Sly and the Family Stone. When Sly said he had been paid $80,000 for one date, Miles said 'What?' The next time you saw him, he was wearing funny clothes, shoes, scarves and he was going after that big audience."

Cobb, who also played with John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Wes Montgomery, still appears live regularly, teaches and is involved in a programme to encourage young jazz musicians.

Later on Thursday evening, he played tracks from Kind Of Blue at Hay with his touring band, in an event presented in association with Brecon Jazz.

The long-running festival is going ahead in August and is set for a revamp in 2010 after being taken over by Hay following a rescue deal.

Cobb and his So What band are due to return to the UK to play in London in September, after playing festivals in the US and Europe.

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