Jimmy Cobb Shares Knowledge and Performance

Jazz drummer brings a “kind-of blue” feeling to MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program.

MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artist in Residence Jimmy Cobb opens the week performing with the MSU Professors of Jazz during the Credit Union’s Blue Mondays concert.
Members of MSU Jazz Orchestra I applaud the talent exhibited by Jimmy Cobb during their performance at Hackett Catholic Central.
Jimmy Cobb, drums; Rodney Whitaker, bass; and former Jazz Studies student Corey Kendrick, piano perform for Detroit’s “Live in the D.”
The Jazz Studies program takes a moment to pose with Jimmy Cobb in front of the Sparty statue.
Jimmy Cobb performs with MSU Jazz Orchestra I at the Fairchild Theatre of the MSU Auditorium.
Jimmy Cobb takes a moment to offer his autograph for fans during his tour of select Michigan high schools.
Left to right: Diego River, MSUFCU president and CEO April Clobes, Jimmy Cobb, Randy Gelispie, Rodney Whitaker, Randy Napoleon, Michael Dease, Xavier Davis, MSUFCU Board members Susan Carter, J.D. and Ernest Betts, Ph.D., and Etienne Charles.


Randy Gelispie, MSU instructor of jazz drums has played with a lot of jazz greats since he began playing professional drums in ninth grade. Last December, the instructor of jazz drums at the MSU College of Music brought a legendary figure with iconic connections to campus for a weeklong residency as part of the MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program.

“We called Jimmy and he said ‘cool,’” says Gelispie of the day he and Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker phoned Jimmy Cobb and asked if he would come to MSU. “He’s like that. You’ll ask him a question and he’ll just answer in a real laid back way.”

Cobb, a giant among jazz drummers, worked with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley and Co. in the 1950s and 1960s. His inspirational career includes the masterpiece “Kind of Blue”—the most popular jazz recording in history. His contributions to the jazz canon include playing on “Sketches of Spain,” “Someday My Prince will Come,” “Live at Carnegie Hall,” “Live at the Blackhawk,” “Porgy and Bess,” and many other watershed Miles Davis recordings. In addition, Cobb worked extensively with artists that including Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday. In 2008, Cobb received the Don Redman Heritage Award, followed in 2009 by the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award. Cobb remains active, leading Jimmy Cobb’s Mob in New York City, and touring internationally in Japan, China, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, and South Africa.

Cobb was the second of four critically acclaimed artists to come to the university this academic year through the jazz residency program supported by $1 million endowment from the MSU Federal Credit Union. Cobb mentored and performed with MSU jazz students Nov. 30-Dec. 6, and also took to the road with the MSU Jazz Orchestra I to work with students at high schools and academies throughout Michigan. Cobb’s packed residency included public performances at the MSU Federal Credit Union and Fairchild Theatre on campus.

“It was very rewarding to have him here,” says Gelispie “My students loved him. They enjoyed the connections he brought by playing all those years with all those jazz greats.”

MSU Jazz Studies graduate student Nick Bracewell says he was amazed by Cobb’s visit, as well hearing that Gelispie knew Cobb from life on the jazz circuit.

“I’m always going to remember getting to sit right behind Mr. Cobb and watching him play,” says Bracewell, a jazz drummer. “Meeting someone like him—another human being who has lived out the dreams we all have as musicians—makes it all seem possible.”

Whitaker says that bringing jazz icons to MSU provides an invaluable experience for students, and solidifies the College’s position as a center for jazz study and tradition. Visits by jazz luminaries also support the College’s initiatives to provide music education and performance opportunities to communities and students across Michigan.

“The generosity of the MSU Federal Credit Union has made it possible for us to bring in artists who have significantly shaped this great American art form we call jazz,” says Whitaker. “We’re exceptionally grateful for their visionary gift that allows us to achieve the highest standards of excellence in jazz education and performance.”

The MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program represents the largest-ever investment in the College of Music’s curriculum. The 2015-2016 program features a blazing line-up of critically acclaimed musicians from the international, national, and regional scene, including Trumpeter Brian Lynch, Drummer Jimmy Cobb, Pianist Kenny Barron, and Saxophonist Tim Warfield, Jr.


Recap: On the Road with Jimmy Cobb

While an MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence in December, jazz drummer and icon Jimmy Cobb took to the road with Jazz Orchestra I as part of MSU’s efforts to bring jazz performance and education to Michigan high schools, music academies, and colleges.

Destinations and highlights:

  • Hackett Catholic Central High School/Western Michigan University—25 students from Hackett and 25 from WMU participated in an outreach concert that was attended by 300 community members.
  • Ann Arbor Pioneer High School—65 students participated in an outreach concert that was attended by 750 community members.
  • Traverse City West High School—40 students participated in workshops and attended an outreach concert with 650 community members.
  • Detroit Carr Center—85 students and community members attended an outreach concert.

What people said:

“The opportunity for students from this area to collaborate, share, and listen to the students from MSU is beyond measure. Working with master jazz performer and educator Rodney Whitaker is an experience that will forever impact them as musicians and humans. Finally, having the opportunity to listen, speak with, and break bread with a jazz icon like Jimmy Cobb will be a career highlight for many of the young jazz musicians attending the workshop and the concert.

“We are all indebted to Michigan State University College of Music, the Jazz Studies program of Michigan State, and the MSU Federal Credit Union for supporting this endeavor, but perhaps more importantly we should all be grateful to Professor Rodney Whitaker for including students from throughout southeast Michigan in this once in a lifetime experience.”

–David A. Leach, director of bands, Ann Arbor Pioneer High School

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