Largely self-taught, Cobb spent his younger days in his hometown of Washington, DC, playing engagements with Charlie Rouse, Frank Wess, and Billie Holiday, among others. He left DC in 1950, joining Earl Bostic, with whom he cut his first recordings, before finding work with Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cannonball Adderley.
In 1957, Cobb began playing with Miles Davis, eventually becoming part of a formidable rhythm section that included Paul Chambers on bass and Wynton Kelly on piano. Between 1957 and 1963, Cobb played (along with saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley) on some of Davis' most noted records: Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Someday My Prince Will Come, Live at Carnegie Hall, Live at the Blackhawk, and Porgy and Bess, among others. In 1963, Cobb left the Davis band to continue working as a trio with Chambers and Kelly. The trio disbanded in the late 1960s, and
Cobb worked with singer Sarah Vaughan for nine years. He then freelanced for the next 20 years with artists such as Sonny Stitt, Nat Adderley, Ricky Ford, Hank Jones, Ron Carter, George Coleman, David "Fathead" Newman, and Nancy Wilson.
Cobb released his first CD (and music video) for the A&E network in 1986; it featured Freddie Hubbard, Gregory Hines, and Bill Cosby. In 2006, Cobb was produced by Branford Marsalis for the Marsalis Music Honor Series, recorded around Cobb's 75th birthday. In the last few years, he has released several albums as a leader -- New York Time, Cobb's Corner, and West of 5th -- playing with stalwart musicians such as pianists Cedar Walton and Hank Jones and relative newcomers such as bassist Christian McBride and trumpeter Roy Hargrove.
Cobb continues to play music in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two children. He now leads the Jimmy Cobb "So What" Band, celebrating 50 years of Kind of Blue and the music of Miles Davis, and travels the international circuit. Cobb currently teaches master classes at Stanford University's Jazz Workshop and has taught at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, the University of Greensboro in North Carolina, the International Center for the Arts at San Francisco State University in California, and international educational institutions.
I am humbled to be included among the great musicians in our American history. I express my gratitude to these jazz giants, many of whom were close friends, who shaped this great American art form called jazz and ultimately helped to shape my life as well. I thank the NEA committee for recognizing America's jazz masters and the art of jazz itself and I am honored and privileged to be a part of this legacy."
An accomplished accompanist and soloist, Jimmy Cobb is best known for being a key part of Miles Davis' first great quintet in the late 1950s.