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No explanation is necessary for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue. And no event seems more appropriate than a touring group under the leadership of Jimmy Cobb – the sole surviving member of the illustrious few who recorded that album in 1959 – playing the music of, and inspired by Kind of Blue. Cobb calls his current group JIMMY COBB’S SO WHAT BAND, having chosen a select lineup from the current jazz scene that makes the term “all-star” seem inadequate in describing their collective experience and top-tier talent.
JIMMY COBB (drums) is the legendary master of 4/4, who – at the age of 83 – possesses a swing that is as driving and intricate as ever. Known for a memorable five-year stint in Miles Davis’s rhythm section from 1958 to ’63, he was born in 1929 in Washington D.C., and is the product of the city’s vibrant music scene, which overlapped rhythm and blues and modern jazz. His well-matched abilities as an accompanist and soloist made him an in-demand sideman starting in his teen years; before hitting the road with Earl Bostic in 1950, he had already played with the likes of Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, and Charlie Rouse. Through the ’50s, he provided steady and sympathetic support for Dinah Washington (whom he married), Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, and ultimately Miles Davis. When Davis moved on to another lineup, Cobb and his rhythm mates – pianist Wynton Kelly and bassist Paul Chamber – remained together as a unit through the ’60s, performing as a trio or in the studio on a number of landmark recordings by the likes of Wes Montgomery, J. J. Johnson, and Kenny Burrell. From the ’70s on, Cobb remained a favorite accompanist, playing with Sarah Vaughan, Sonny Stitt, Nat Adderley, and Joe Albany. Most recently, he has served as an educator, session specialist, and bandleader, heading Cobb’s Mobb – with whom he has recorded three critically hailed albums to date: Cobb’s Groove, Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb, and Cobb’s Corner.
Vincent Herring (alto saxophone) is a Kentuckian who fell under the spell of a Floridian – the ever-funky and fluid Cannonball Adderley. Herring has proceeded, since arriving in New York City in 1983, to create his own sound and stamp on the jazz circle. After playing with a wide stylistic variety of bands – from Lionel Hampton’s swing to Horace Silver’s hardbop to David Murray’s avant-garde, he settled in with Nat Adderley’s group, playing music made famous by his mentor (Nat’s brother and partner). In 1993, Herring struck out on his own. Of his 16 albums, standouts include 1993’s Secret Love, 1999’s Sterling Place All-Stars (with fellow Brooklynites pianist Ronnie Matthews, bassist Richie Goods, and drummer Carl Allen), and Live at Smoke, recorded in 2007 in one of New York’s leading uptown nightclubs.
Javon Jackson (tenor saxophone) is a member of the last graduating class of the University of Art Blakey – and stands as a devotee of the hardbop sound propagated by such pioneers as Hank Mobley and Joe Henderson. He grew up in Cleveland and Denver, attended Berklee School of Music, and after Blakey, developed his sound in bands led by the Harper Brothers, Benny Green, Freddie Hubbard, and Elvin Jones. To date, he has recorded fourteen solid and well-received albums as a leader, beginning with One for All in 1991 and, most recently, Celebrating John Coltrane and Lucky 13.
Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) is one of the most talked-about trumpeters of the past decade. The Los Angeles native and New York resident burst onto the jazz scene in New York in 1998. Armed with dual degrees from Berklee College of Music in jazz performance and film scoring, it was not long before his talents were recognized and he played his first professional gig with the Mingus Big Band. That gig led to many long-lasting associations with members in the band, and provided a great opportunity for growth. Pelt quickly became a first-call musician and his efforts earned him an extensive feature article by legendary journalist and producer Nat Hentoff in the Wall Street Journal.
Since his arrival, Pelt has been fortunate enough to play with many of today’s and yesterday’s jazz luminaries, such as Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cobb, Ravi Coltrane, Charli Persip, Keter Betts, Bobby Short, Bobby “Blue” Bland, The Skatalites, Cedar Walton, Nancy Wilson, and many, many more.
Pelt has been the recipient of nonstop worldwide critical acclaim and progressively greater audiences ever since his debut release, Profile, as a leader, in 2002. With his impeccable, lyrical sound and animated, biting solos, it is easy to see why firebrand trumpeter Jeremy Pelt has been voted Rising Star on the Trumpet five years in a row by DownBeat Magazine and why he won a Jazz Journalist Association award for up and coming musician of the year. The New York Times says, “Pelt plays brilliantly, with warmth and depth.” Critics agree that Pelt has proven himself to be not only a fitting guardian of the jazz tradition but also an adept composer and leader in his own right.
In addition to nine critically acclaimed CDs as a leader (Soul on HighNote Records, being the latest), Pelt appears on over four dozen discs as a sideman including those of living legends Wayne Shorter (Alegria), Cedar Walton (Seasoned Wood), and Gerald Wilson (In My Time).
Buster Williams (bass) is simply one of the most instantly recognizable and respected standup bassists in jazz today. He has ridden the stylistic shifts in the music scene – from acoustic to electric and back again – with aplomb, and left an indelible mark on all the bands fortunate to include him. Born in Camden, New Jersey, Williams fell under the spell of Oscar Pettiford and pursued music studies in Philadelphia. The roster of stars with whom he toured through the ’60s includes great players like Jimmy Heath, Gene Ammons, and Sonny Stitt, and vocalists Dakota Staton, Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, and Nancy Wilson. As a funkier and more amplified sound found its way into the scene, he worked with the Jazz Crusaders, Miles Davis, and Bobby Hutcherson/Harold Land, but it was with Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking group Mwandishi – in which Williams juggled both standup and electric bass – that his legend was made. He later joined groups led by legendary pianist Mary Lou Williams and Ron Carter. Williams’ work as a leader – beginning in 1976 – and as a member of both the Timeless All Stars and the Monk-tribute group Sphere, have secured his A-list status. From the ’80s to the present, it’s difficult to find a jazz headliner he has not accompanied. In 2008, Williams began releasing a series of live albums exclusively for download through his company, Buster Williams Productions.
Larry Willis (piano) is one the most talented yet unsung pianists of the same generation as McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. Part of the reason is a restless (and somewhat reverse) approach to jazz styles: first being associated with free jazz ensembles, then fusion during the ’70s and finally proving himself in hardbop groups in the ’80s and ’90s. A native New Yorker, Willis graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and immediately joined bands led by Jackie McLean and Hugh Masekela, and recorded with Lee Morgan and Stan Getz. After adopting synthesizer and electric piano in the ’70s, he worked on sessions with Cannonball Adderley, Joe Henderson, and Richard “Groove” Holmes, and joined the rock/jazz fusion group Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1972. In the ’80s, he returned to a more acoustic path, playing with Nat Adderley, Woody Shaw, and others. Willis has made albums as a leader since 1970, on the whole preferring tighter lineups of quartets and quintets. 2008’s The Offering features fun and fractured overview of jazz styles (including a funky treatment of the Star Wars theme).