R.I.P Elvin Jones

Elvin was a true inovator. Here's the NY Times story.

Elvin Jones, Jazz Drummer With Coltrane, Dies at 76

Elvin Jones, whose explosive drumming powered the John Coltrane
Quartet, the most influential and controversial jazz ensemble of the 1960's,
died yesterday in Manhattan. He was 76 and lived in Manhattan and
Nagasaki, Japan.

Mr. Jones's death, which came after several months of failing health,
was announced by John DeChristopher, director of artist relations for
the Avedis Zildjian Company, maker of Mr. Jones's cymbals. Mr. Jones
continued to perform until a few weeks ago, often taking an oxygen tank
onto the bandstand.

Mr. Jones, a fixture of the Coltrane group from late 1960 to early 1966
and for more than three decades the leader of several noteworthy groups
of his own, was the first great post-bebop percussionist. Building on
the innovations of the jazz modernists Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, who
liberated the drum kit from a purely time-keeping function in the
1940's, he paved the way for a later generation of drummers who dispensed
with a steady rhythmic pulse altogether in the interest of greater
improvisational freedom. But he never lost that pulse: the beat was always
palpable when he played, even as he embellished it with layer upon layer
of interlocking polyrhythms.

The critic and historian Leonard Feather explained Mr. Jones's
significance this way: "His main achievement was the creation of what might be
called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was
necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling
became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the
whole group."

But if the self-taught Mr. Jones had a profound influence on other
drummers, not many of them directly emulated his style, at least in part
because few had the stamina for it. None of the images that the critics
invoked to describe his playing — volcano, thunderstorm,
perpetual-motion machine — quite did justice to the strength of his attack, the
complexity of his ideas or the originality of his approach.

Elvin Ray Jones was born in Pontiac, Mich., on Sept. 9, 1927. The
youngest of 10 children, he was the third Jones brother to become a
professional musician, following Hank, a respected jazz pianist who is still
active, and Thad, a cornetist, composer, arranger and bandleader, who
died in 1986.

He began teaching himself to play drums at 13, but he had lost his
heart to the instrument long before then. "I never wanted to play anything
else since I was 2," he told one interviewer. "I would get these wooden
spoons from my mother and beat on the pots and pans in the kitchen."

After spending three years in the Army he joined his brothers as a
fixture on the busy Detroit jazz scene of the early 1950's. As the house
drummer at a local nightclub, the Bluebird Inn, he worked with local
musicians like Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Burrell as well as visiting jazz
stars like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

In 1956 after briefly touring with the bassist Charles Mingus and the
pianist Bud Powell, Mr. Jones moved to New York, where he was soon in
great demand as an accompanist. He occasionally sat in with Miles Davis,
and he later recalled that Coltrane, who was then Davis's saxophonist,
promised to hire Mr. Jones whenever he formed his own group. In the
fall of 1960 Coltrane made good on that promise.

Working with Coltrane, a relentless musical explorer, emboldened Mr.
Jones to expand the expressive range of his instrument. "My experience
with Coltrane," he told the writer James Isaacs in 1973, "was that John
was a catalyst in my finding the way that drums could be played most
musically." He in turn influenced Coltrane, Mr. Jones's ferocious rhythms
goading Coltrane to ecstatic heights in performance and on recordings like "A Love Supreme" and "Ascension."

Coltrane's quartet helped redefine the concept of the jazz combo. Mr.
Jones and the other members of the rhythm section, the pianist McCoy
Tyner and the bassist Jimmy Garrison, did not accompany Coltrane so much
as engage him in an open-ended four-way conversation. Audiences found
the group's intensity galvanizing, and many critics shared their enthusiasm.

It turns out there was a 2nd page to the story.
Here's page 2

But despite its popularity, the group divided the jazz world. John Tynan of Down Beat magazine dismissed its music as "anti-jazz," and others agreed. Mr. Jones's drumming, a revelation to some listeners, was dismissed by others as overly busy and distractingly loud.

Mr. Jones left the group in March 1966, shortly after Coltrane, as part of his constant quest for new sounds, began adding musicians. Although he never publicly explained why he left, he was widely believed to have been insulted by Coltrane's decision to hire a second drummer.

Mr. Jones spent two weeks with Duke Ellington's big band and briefly worked in Paris before returning to the United States, where he formed a trio with Garrison, who had also recently left Coltrane, and the saxophonist Joe Farrell. That group was short-lived, but Mr. Jones continued to lead small groups for the rest of his life. Over the years many exceptional musicians passed in and out of the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, as the ensemble came to be known in all its various incarnations, and the group performed regularly all over the world and recorded prolifically.

Mr. Jones's survivors include his wife, Keiko, who also managed his career and composed several of the pieces in his band's repertory, and his brother Hank.

Mr. Jones came to see it as his mission to offer training and experience to promising young musicians, and in recent years he gave early exposure to budding jazz stars like the saxophonist Joshua Redman, the trumpeter Nicholas Payton and the trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. A particularly noteworthy addition to the Jazz Machine lineup in the 1990's was the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, John's son.

Mr. Jones was also a tireless proselytizer for an instrument that he believed was too often maligned and misunderstood. "I played a job in a bar once as a young man," he told his fellow drummer Lewis Nash in a 1997 interview for Down Beat. "One of the customers came up to me and said, `Hey, make some noise.' What he really meant was that he wanted me to play a drum solo. So that is a general perception, and that way of thinking still exists."

"People never understood," he continued, "that the drum is a musical instrument."
Heard it was coming, but hoped he'd get his health back. Last year at Yoshi's (in April 03'at 76) he and his band left everyone there w/a big grin and an unforgettable musical experience. Going in i thought he would be a shell of his former self. I was DEAD WRONG!! He loved playing and it wasn't hard to see why. Mitch Mitchell, Jack De Johnette, Robert Wyatt, Dennis Chambers and lots of other greats would have developed differently without him. Glad he was here. Sure would have been cool to see him play a few more times
Thanks for the post. Although I played bass in high school, Elvin Jones was always a yardstick by which I would (unfairly) measure anyone I played with. My classmates and I would usually talk about two groups: The Quintet (which was Miles, Cannonbal, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Jimmi Cobb), and THE QUARTET: Trane, McCoy, Jimmy, and Elvin. Oh, those extended listening sessions! We would spin A Love Supreme 3 or 4 times in a row, and Elvin, probably more than even Coltrane, was the unique sound that pulls you into that track. I'm going to miss him a lot. Right now KCSM.org is playing a lot of this music.
Elvin's work with Coltrane thrills me endlessly. He was definitely up to the challenge of playing with Trane. I'll be seeking out more of his later stuff. Thanks Elvin.
I can't express my fondness for his music and HIS contribution to THE QUARTET. I was introduced to the Quartet in High School, this was my awakening to Jazz. I became enthralled with JC's music and espeially ELvin's playing. Coming from the Rock world, I finally heard the Jazz influences. It wasn't long that Coltrane was the ONLY thing I listened to, especially the year 1965. I often meditate to JC's music to this day, mainly Ascension. Even loved his solo ventures esp. Agape Love. Elvin, you will be missed. PEACE
Thanks so much for the post from the NY Times. I feel fortunate to have heard this musical genius live, and even more fortunate that he leaves a recorded legacy that I can enjoy again and again in my living room.
It's important for us all to pause from time to time and acknowledge that our pursuit of audio nirvana would be meaningless without the thrilling music and the gifted musicians who bring it to us. Thanks Elvin--and all the Jones brothers!
Here's a heart-breaking story I've read a while back:

From an unidentified doctor who attended the show (from a Latin Jazz site):

This might be beyond Latin Jazz, but this is the only egroup that I think might be interested in the description of my experience during a recent 4 days stay in the SF for a meeting. I was able to go to Yoshi's to see Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. I am not that familiar with his work, but knowing he was John Coltrane drummer and more recently worked a lot with Candido with his poly-rhythm stuff that I wanted to check him out. First of all, Yoshi's is a great modern place to see a Jazz band, good acoustics, pretty big as well. The only problem is that it is in the middle of a mall-like complex and after the last set we were stranded, without a cab or even a person to help us out to get back to SF. I tried to ask for somebody at Yoshi's to actually call a cab for us or help us out, and he looked at me like "Are you from another planet?" (and he was the last person there, once he left, we were truly alone). Took us an hour to actually get back to a BART (subway) station to head back to SF. But that is beyond the point.

I was really eager to see Elvin Jones, waiting to see the Black Thunder pounding those drums. The scenario was perfect, no mikes over the drums so I though "wow, he can really pound those drums, eh?". Well, the band came out (2 saxes, pianist and bassist) and the place went crazy but...no Elvin...and no Elvin...and no Elvin. After about 5 minutes of constant applause, Elvin Jones came out, couldn't walk and had to be helped by his wife and the band members. We were a group of physicians and nurses and we all looked at each other with the same expression in our faces "he is dying of heart failure". His wife gave him the sticks and the band started playing a bebop-like tune. It was quite an experience seeing him playing that night. The stick in his right hand (hitting the cymbal) kept slipping back and he needed to reposition it. He was certainly off, considering the timing of the tune. I couldn't see his left hand, but I could not hear any beats. Similarly with the hi-hat, I did not hear it all night long. As the performance continued, he looked more ill...in fact, he closed his eyes once, and grabbed his stomach as if he was in pain, and everybody in my group got up because we though that he was going to fall. He finally woke up and continued playing. He took one solo all night long, and basically what he did was to drop the sticks on the drum one at a time, at a very slow speed. He did not have the strength or energy to lift up the sticks from the drum fast enough. The band sounded great thought. I guess he is like Art Blakey and surrounded himself with the best young players available. The bassist kept the rhythm going all night long, working super hard and the pianist would take very long solos, as both sax players. Elvin could still swing at a very low speed, but was well complemented by the bassist and pianist. At the end of the performance, his wife whose name I couldn't catch, came out and said that Elvin Jones was very ill, dying from heart failure. She also said that he had not eaten anything that day but that she had fired his prior 3 physicians when they said that he was dying and decided to take care of things herself, booking him continuously until July (she also went on and on talking about medical insurances, doctors, etc) Elvin did not said a word all night long, and I actually wondered if was still coherent enough (which is a common, late event in patients with heart failure). He stayed there, sitting by his drums for about 20 minutes after the performance was over. We all gave him a standing ovation, I guess is the way of thanking him for what he has done. He did wave goodbye as he was helped out of the stage. We sent him our cards as there are some options for patients with advanced heart failure (which we happen to specialize in our group).

I am not sure I can actually describe the feeling I had that night. The music was good, and seeing him on the drums made me happy and sad. Happy because I got to see him before the inevitable. Sad because somebody like him should be at home, spending the last few days of his life surrounded by family and friends. I know he also needs our support (income as his wife put it). I haven't heard anything about his health in the news, and patients with heart failure have good and bad days, but I can actually say that he is in bad shape, weakened by his illness (already cachectic). I will forever have the image of an elderly Elvin Jones playing the drums that night.

Very sad! A wonderful person who it has been my pleasure to spend time with on a number of occasions.