The Knoxville Jazz Festival didn’t end with the last announced event, astonishing as it was. The sextet at the Bijou Theatre, anchored by Jimmy Cobb, the low-key drummer and last surviving member of Miles Davis’ late-’50s band—the legendary group that also included saxman John Coltrane and pianist/composer Bill Evans—played the entire 1959 album Kind of Blue, with sidemen only slightly less well-known, for an almost full house. At the end, after an encore with elements of a few Miles standards, the 81-year-old Cobb, in a gimme cap and suspenders, spoke to the audience briefly, saying he’d been very pleased to get a hospitable reception in Knoxville. “I didn’t expect to,” he said.
Donald Brown, the happy host of the evening, seems to have known these guys for a while, and invited the audience to keep the festival afoot at the S&W Grand afterward, where the usual jazz night was in progress, dominated at first by University of Tennessee students and other regulars like pianist Ben Maney. Though it was close to 11 p.m. by that time, a few audience members heeded the suggestion, as well as some performers. At one point, musicians seemed to outnumber patrons in the old art-moderne room, many of them young men milling among the busy servers near the bar, wielding trumpets and saxophones like six-shooters, waiting for a turn.
Around midnight, Jimmy Cobb and his elder bandmates were enjoying themselves at a table near the window. Cobb, stand-up bassist and former Davis sideman Buster Williams, and pianist Larry Willis, who was, among many other things, keyboardist for Blood, Sweat, and Tears for most of the 1970s, seemed to enjoy a turn in a jazz audience, as they applauded the band and told jokes. Not as averse to new technology as some contemporaries, Cobb, who had also been at the restaurant the night before, showed new friends photographs of favorite places and people in New York on his iPhone, as some local supporters like Nelda Hill, who organized the recession-reduced festival, and jazz patron Karen Kluge indulged him.
Also in the room, at a distance from the others, was shaven-headed trumpeter Eddie Henderson, who took the role of his old friend Miles Davis onstage. Making what was reportedly his first appearance as a member of Cobb’s So What Band, Henderson has some cred in the role, having made his own recording of “So What” independently a few years ago. They called him “Doctor” Henderson on stage, leading some to believe it was his nickname, a la Doc Severinsen. In fact, Henderson is a real M.D., a retired physician, but he grew up in a show-biz family, knowing Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis and playing with them on occasion. Some of the younger saxophonists and trombonists sat in with the local guys, the older guys content to watch and applaud, at least until the very end.
Donald Brown announced the last tune, and that appeared to be the end of it. But then pianist Larry Willis took the bench at about 1:30 a.m. and played Duke Ellington’s lovely “A Single Petal of a Rose.”