Elvin Jones
* September 27, 1927 † May 18, 2004
United States
Farewell to a gentle giant... Elvin Ray Jones Sept. 9, 1927 - May 18, 2004

During the short period that encompasses the history of jazz in the 20th century, Elvin Jones has become a musician whose place in that history is forever set. He is a pivotal figure, a dynamic and technically gifted artist, who helped move jazz to a new stage in overall musical development, and in the process created a monumental contribution to percussion.

Born in 1927, Elvin Ray Jones was surrounded by music within his family. His brother Hank is one of the finest pianists in jazz, and late brother Thad was also one of the most successful trumpet/flugelhorn players as well as a great band leader.

As a child he got a practice pad, some sticks and a Paul Yoder method book, which he basically memorized. His influences include the most influential jazz drummers of all time including Chick Webb, Sid Catlett, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Dave Tough and Art Blakey.

By 1946, Elvin joined the army and at one point toured with a special service show called Operation Happiness, but as a stagehand, not a musician. During his time in the service, however, he began playing for post dances and similar affairs.

In 1949, after the army, Elvin Jones got his first big professional job in Detroit, a city that then was as musically active as any outside of New York. The musicians working around the clubs included Barry Harris, Billy Mitchell, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, and Milt Jackson. Elvin started at a place called the Grand River Street and the job was just fine until the piano player who was also the leader ran off with all the money. Disappointed with the big city, Elvin went back to Pontiac to work, but he soon returned to Detroit and began working at a club called the Blue Bird with his brother Thad and Tommy Flanagan. Elvin remained at the Blue Bird playing with such visiting stars as Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Wardell Gray, and the legendary Charlie Parker.

Finally, a break, he got the chance to audition for the new Benny Goodman Band in New York City. Elvin left Detroit within 12 hours of getting the call. The audition was a disaster from the start when the band, minus Benny, brought out the first piece of music, "Sing, sing, sing", a tune Elvin never liked.

However, it had been a free ticket to New York, and Elvin stayed. He joined Charlie Mingus' band and in subsequent years played with Bud Powell, Miles Davis, the Pepper Adam-Donald Byrd Quintet, Art Farmer, J.J. Johnson (one of his first record dates was with J.J. and brother Hank on a LP called J is Jazz - Columbia). In 1960 he joined the John Coltrane Quartet, forming one of the most influential and important ensembles in all of musical history. It was the beginning of a tremendously creative period that changed jazz radically. With the "Classic Quartet", Jones at the helm, pianist McCoy Tyner and eventually bassist Jimmy Garrison, Coltrane produced some of the most influential and important music to ever come out of jazz including "A Love Supreme" and "Coltrane Live at the Vanguard". The effect is still being felt today.

Jones left Coltrane in 1966, more than anything, because he felt he had exhausted what he could do in that context - the die had been cast and it was time to move on. The impact that Coltrane had on Elvin, though, was unparalleled; it was truly a student-teacher relationship. After a brief European tour with Duke Ellington's band, Elvin returned to New York to begin what would turn out to be 37 years as a distinguished bandleader. Under Elvin's leadership, the "Elvin Jones Jazz Machine" continued to explore the new musical terrain opened up by Coltrane's bands; his music not only an extension of that period but a growing and widening love affair with it. Among the first call musicians who form an impressive list of Jazz Machine alumni are Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Art Pepper, George Coleman, Joshua Redman, Pat LaBarbera, Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, Delfeayo Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Reggie Workman, George Mraz, Andy McCloud, David Williams, Joe Farrell, Frank Foster, George Coleman, Jimmy Garrison, Wilbur Little and Gene Perla.

Having his place fixed in jazz history wasn't nearly as important as playing his music and making a living in the present as far as Elvin was concerned. Elvin regularly participated in clinics, where he not only dealt with percussion techniques but the history of music, and toured with the Jazz Machine right up to the time of his death. Even when he knew his health was failing him, Elvin continued to play Jazz clubs around the world, still moving, still expanding his horizons and relentlessly pursuing his music and the fulfillment of his life. His wife Keiko said, "He wanted to be behind his kit. That's where he was happiest."

In addition to his musical accomplishments, milestones in Elvin's life include receiving an Honorary Degree Citation from California Institute of the Arts and being inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. In 1998 Elvin was voted into the Downbeat Hall of Fame, and later the same year, was honored at the Zildjian Company's American Drummers Achievement Awards, the proceeds from which went to the creation of a Scholarship in his name at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Elvin returned to Berklee in 2001 to have an Honorary Doctorate of Music bestowed upon him. In 2003 the National Endowment for the Arts named him a Jazz Master.

The legacy of Elvin Jones will undoubtedly live on as one of the most influential percussionists in contemporary music as the impact of his art continues to be felt not only in jazz but in other musical forms as well.

[taken from Ziljdian.com]

"There will never be a more pure or powerful drumming force, or a higher level of drumming intelligence and passion, than that of Mr. Elvin Jones. Elvin represented everything that was good and great about jazz and life: the swingin'est beat, the brightest smile, the warmest (and most sweat-stoked!) embrace ... Elvin was the life force of our music. And as hard as it is to imagine life and jazz without his bodily presence, he lives on in the tremendous body of recorded work he left us, and in the memories of those who were lucky enough to know him or see him in person. Elvin Jones left the world a much better place."
Peter Erskine

"What do you say about a King? Elvin Jones' music was such a reflection of who he was as a person, a man who truly lived his life and experienced the spectrum of human emotion fully and deeply. His strong life force came through his playing and was a dynamic expression of that rhythm of life. He translated that vital heartbeat of humanity as he heard it so that when he played, you couldn't help but feel the joy. A remarkable man, a remarkable gift. Thank you Elvin!"

Mike Clark

"Elvin Jones is an innovator and distinctive. You can hear him a mile away - a true original. I was lucky enough to see him play on many occassions and I listened to him on record countless times. He is an influence and an inspiration - and a gentleman. Thank you Elvin."

Anton Fig

"Experiencing Elvin Jones was, to me, like having both hands wading in soil - the earth, in your garden. It was like the rain and the thunder also. So organic - so beautifully abstract and yet always, absolutely the essential. Goodbye beautiful man. Thank you so much."

Gary Husband

"Let me say Elvin was the first jazz drummer I ever heard when my mom played me a Sonny Rollins record called East Bway Rundown and his drumming was incredible. As I got on in my playing career I got a chance to meet Elvin and he was so cool and had a hand shake that was outrageously strong. The man, the legend has left us a life time of love, hardship and joy through his drumming; let us all be so lucky. I will miss him dearly as he was one of the most incredible people I have ever met, lot's of love Elvin."

Greg hutchinson

"If a measure of a musician is what they " say " when they play , it's obvious Elvin Jones was truly one of the great ones. God Bless Him."

Dave Mattacks

"My very first jazz LP was by Elvin Jones & it was called Genesis. I don't think it's available on CD yet. It had an immediate impact on me as it was different from anything I had heard before. A master of pulse & an untouchable feel on the brushes too. I was witness not only to great power but flair, but in a raw way, not designed. Like when you find an exquisite natural wonder of nature which inspires us to "attempt" to imitate it. I believe Louie Bellson calls him "Mother Nature in syncopation".
One time I met Elvin in the 1980's as we were set to play on the same stage at the Queens Theatre in London's West End. He sat behind my drums(he loved the electric blue colour) and wove his magic. He turns to me and says "Dynamics". When Moses puts the tablet in front of your face, YOU READ IT! Everyone should pick up their sticks and just play without being dictated by paradiddles etc... and see what happens. Another great lesson Elvin taught me. As with my other brother in spirit, Tony Williams, I'll miss him & I'll play hard. My love to his loved ones"

Mark Mondesir

"How do you put into words something that is indescribable? Where do you begin.......
Elvin Jones was one of those blessed few individuals who was so tapped into that special deep spiritual zone that we all strive to ultimately attain. It seemed as though he could readily access that place. It was as though he was a conduit for the life force of all humanity.
He was a warm, generous soul to those who knew him. I first met him when I was 15 and I was in total awe and as nervous as could be. He made me feel instanly at ease and we developed a friendship, where he was always encouraging to me over the years. I will always cherish that.
God bless him and his dear Keiko.
Elvin was one of my fathers. His spirit lives on forever. I will always love him and will be forever grateful."

Adam Nussbaum

"Elvin made me think of very fine art. The way he played was how Monet painted. He was the best and will be truly missed. God Bless."

John JR Robinson

"I'll miss Elvin terribly. His influence is firmly embedded in my playing and in MANY other drummers. He's influenced generations of players and he will truly live on the hearts and playing of us all. I'm thankful I did get to see him play many times, it was always a thrill and an education."

Steve Smith

"He changed the stream of drumming. Real innovator. His smile encouraged all of us."

Akira Jimbo

"Elvin Jones was the pulse of my generation of musicians; a "World Beat". He influenced so many drummers and other instrumentalists of varying styles. When we awarded him an honorary Doctorate at Cal Arts in 1996, the entire audience was on it's feet before he said a word. He was, as you know, the sweetest guy in the world as well as one of it's greatest of drummers. With Elvin gone, we are all going to have to try a little bit harder."

Joe La Barbera

"It's very important for me to say that the reason for me playing the beautiful instrument of the drums is entirely because of hearing Elvin at the age of 8. He translated a very essential truth to my heart on a very profound level. I am eternally grateful for his courage, commitment and passion all of these years. I love Elvin from the deepest part of my existence, if you could pass this humble message on to his dear wife. Thank you so much for the immense respect you have shown my mentor. I will cherish always my moments with this exquisite man. God Bless him."

Vito Reeza.

"It breaks my heart to hear of the passing of Elvin Jones. The percussion world has lost one of the most incredible creators of jazz drumming ever. I feel very fortunate to have known Elvin for almost forty years, having first heard his incredible energy and magic behind the drums at Birdland in New York with the John Coltrane Quartet. As the years went on, when I was living in LA in the seventies, my dear friend, Dave Liebman would always call me when he was in town with Elvin and invite me to their various gigs. I will always remember Elvin greeting me his infectious smile and picking me up off the floor with one of his great bear hugs, always expressing to me his great love of life and music and encouraging me to take my drumming to the next level!
Several years ago I met Elvin at the Village Vanguard while my dear friend, Frank Foster, was on the band. As I entered the club, Elvin was burnin' "Three Card Molly". I proceeded to sit right behind him, practically on the bandstand. As soon as I sat down, Elvin stopped playing, came over to me, picked me up once again with that great bear hug, and sat me down on his drum stool to finish the tune. I was blown away! Frank and I just smiled and I tried to maintain that incredible, big sound that only Elvin could create. That moment of his sharing will live in my heart forever!"

Les DeMerle

"As a young kid in high school, I loved Elvin Jones's playing, his spirit and vibe so much, that I would play along to the John Coltrane albums " A Love Supreme" and " Giant Steps" almost every day. I never sounded like Elvin, but I was loving his everything."

Kenny Aronoff

"We all share this great loss, but while I'm saddened, I also rejoice in a great documented musical legacy that will influence future generations as profoundly as it did my own. Elvin is immortal because he will live in every drummer who has heard or will discover his playing for the first time. As Elvin once said "When you can't feel anything else, you can feel the drums". It was a great priviledge to know Elvin, and to know him is to love him. I will always feel Elvin Jones"

Lenny White

"Elvin had his own way of playing the drums, which in turn inspired me to be original in my approach. He played always with heart and soul. And I shall help to continue the legacy."

Clarence Penn

"Elvin was the first real influence for my drumming in modern Jazz. It was a real blessing to have the privilege to play with him when I was living in San Juan Puerto Rico in 1970. He was really encouraging when I told him I wanted to go to N.Y. to play with all the ‘cats' and he reminded me that we had Pablo Casals and the great percussionists' right there in P.R. Elvin was very humble and full of joy! I'm going to miss him a lot."

Alex Acuña.

"Elvin will never die. "Thank you for being who you are!"

Justin DiCioccio

"I first met elvin in new orleans 11/62 at vernon's a local jazz club with John Coltrane the year I graduated from high school. The night I saw Elvin he played the gig with snare, bass drum, ride cymbal, crash and hi hat, I had only seen Charles Otis do that on that kind of gig. Elvin and I became real close friends over 42 years. He was as gentle as a baby and as ferious as any lion. "long live the king"

Jaimoe Johnie Johnson

"When I first became aware of Elvin Jones at he age of 13 or 14, he seemed to be almost a myth. Like Zeus or Hercules, mightier than a mortal, someone than was not of this planet. I'd heard stories of his power and stamina,and that his performances with John Coltrane and others, were unlike anything the world had ever seen or heard before! Now after 30 some odd years of living with him as part of my everyday life, studying his recordings, seeing and hearing him play, and talking with him on several occasions, I know now that he was one of the nicest, giving,and most sincere people Ive ever met. He was as human, as he was a myth. He will be with me always everyday, now as he always was since as far back as I can remember, and I feel privlaged and blessed to say I got a chance to witness and be influenced by, his genius. God Bless Elvin Jones"

Billy Drummond

"One of the greatest senses of completion that I've ever experienced happened when I was able to write a love letter about Elvin for a Modern Drummer Magazine about a year ago that was a featured issue about him. I'm sure that I was not unique in identifying Elvin's incredible traits. Anyone that ever met him, from bellboy to princess, would've loved his graciousness and humility. This guy could listen to you - even if you were a 17 year old kid with an ego the size of Texas! He could teach you something that you could understand and yet never condescended. He was playful, as any great drummer should, with sneakers that had a letter 'E' on his left shoe and a letter 'J' on the right. The Beatles said 'All You Need Is Love'. All I needed was Elvin Jones."

Billy Ward

"Elvin was a true life force. To see him play was ALWAYS an inspiration and a whole lot of fun! His energy and stamina served as a model for me, while his sense of interplay with the soloist changed drumming for me. As a teacher, one of the greatest joys is to try and explain Elvin's style. To see the looks on young drummers (or not so young ) when they hear this man is always a treat. I will miss his joyous musical force."
With respect,
Steve Houghton

"In May 2003 Zildjian sponsored Elvin in clinic at the Manhattan School of Music. Keiko and Elvin arrived early to prepare for the event. Elvin looked thin and was walking with a cane but his mind and spirit were unflagging. A couple of us were fortunate to get to spend an hour backstage with Mr. and Mrs. Jones before the clinic began.
The conversation ran the gamut from music to food to politics to space travel and back. At one point Elvin asked me how things were going and one thing I reported was that my cymbals had recently been 'lost' by an airline. Elvin was sympathetic and proceeded to break us up with stories of the numerous misadventures of his cymbals through the years.
The clinic was fantastic and culminated with a jam session, during which Elvin played extended versions of the John Coltrane staples 'Mr. PC' and 'Impressions,' with the 'in awe' students. He eagerly accompanied 8 horn players. At the conclusion of the jam Elvin gave each player a bear hug and a few words of encouragement, then asked the audience if there were any further questions. The final question was 'How was playing with the students different from playing with John Coltrane?' Elvin calmly answered that there was no difference; he felt exactly the same commitment and spirit that day as he did playing with Coltrane in the 1960s. For me that statement was the key to knowing Elvin - his sole purpose was to provide egoless support and inspiration.
After the clinic most of the considerable audience approached the stage and Elvin graciously shook hands with every one them. Then I said good-bye to Elvin and Keiko and Elvin headed backstage while I walked towards the exit. A couple seconds later Elvin called my name. I turned towards him and he said 'John, if you don't get your cymbals back I've got some for you.' I was stunned that he remembered that fleeting moment from three hours earlier and more stunned by his gracious generosity. On second thought, I shouldn't have been surprised; that same selfless thoughtfulness is exactly what made his music so special. The world would be a better place if there were more people like Elvin Jones."

John Riley

"Seeing Elvin play live changed my life forever. The passion and attitude that he played with was intoxicating. It was so organic, musical, and truly original. We have lost a very special person and one of the true masters of the instrument."

Keith Carlock

"I want to take this opportunity to thank God for allowing us to witness one of His greatest designs. I first heard of Mr. Jones in 1963,my father bought 'My Favorite Things' from John Coltrane. That spun my 12 year old head, and I've never been the same. Being raised in Philadelphia, there was a division in the cities' jazz musicians as to what current group was the most enjoyable. In West Philadelphia, where I'm from, John Coltrane/Elvin Jones tandum was King:the other side of town (where Stanley Clarke is from!) Miles Davis/Tony Williams was King. There were many great battles,I tried my hardest to sound like Elvin.
The gift of music is universal,but there are few that are the ambassadors,the true Masters seem to come around even less, so it's in this understanding that we've been a witness to excellence. His responsibility is over, he's passed the test,and fulfilled the obligation that when we're blessed with a gift, we've got to pass this on. Thank you Elvin, Thank God for this mentor in this Life! Keep Swingin' In Heaven!"

Gerry Brown

"I feel very fortunate to live in the same time as Elvin Jones and to be able to see him play many times. His musical spirit was incredibly powerful and his playing evolved to a surreal level of individualism, while somehow always blending with other musicians of diverse styles in harmonious, supportive ways. He lived an incredible life."

Bill Stewart

"It is a sad time for all who play the drums and for all jazz musicians and lovers of this music, for Elvin Jones affected us all. It is impossible to hear him and not fall in love with his style, his heavy hand, his sweetness and grace. The night he passed I had played a solo and realized that virtually nothing I played would have been possible without his contribution to jazz drumming. How amazing! Most people strive for or dream of having even a small fraction of that kind of originality or influence in their contribution to society and to the world, in music and beyond. He was our ambassador, our general, our chief, our wiseman, our medicine man and our friend. He will be more than missed and is immortalized with the honor of saints and icons and other men or women of authentic greatness. I can only encourage us to celebrate his life and his art, which I'm sure is the way he would want it. Here's to you!"

Terri Lyne Carrington

"I did a radio interview with host Bobby Jackson of WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio. We talked all about Elvin Jones and his music and how much Elvin influenced me. Elvin was like a father and older brother to me. Always encouraging and inspiring me. When I took the gig with pianist McCoy Tyner, I went out and bought albums with Elvin on them. I studied those albums and learned so much about drumming! You can hear Elvin in me ever time I play jazz! He will be dearly missed but not forgotten! Heaven is procuring one of the greatest drummers of all times! Long live Elvin Jones."

Alphonse Mouzon

"I will never forget the first night I visited New York in 1984. I was dropped off by my friends at the Village Vanguard where Elvin was performing. It was so incredible that I went back the next night to try and regain my bearings. I had never witnessed anything like what I heard and saw. He played with so much love and passion. After the set I was amazed that he greeted everyone in the room with the famous handshake. (Shake or be shaken I used to say!).
I saw him play many times and was fortunate to go to a record date of his in Brooklyn. He was so joyous about life and music. I recall saying 'Elvin, it looks like you are having so much fun!' He put his arm around me and said, 'Matt if I was not having fun, I would not be doing this!' My wife Felicia loved to go and see Elvin play. She put it best after we saw Elvin perform in Boston at the Regattabar. She said, 'There is the wind, the rain, the snow and Elvin Jones!' Thank you for the love of life that will forever be an inspiration."

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