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Elvin Jones, Jazz Drummer With Coltrane, Dies at 76


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Elvin Jones, Jazz Drummer With Coltrane, Dies at 76

By PETER KEEPNEWS

Published: May 19, 2004

 

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

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Elvin was cool. He also appeared in a movie, touted as a "rock western" called Zachariah, in the early 70's. Country Joe and the Fish were also in that movie along with some other interesting performers. Elvin stole the whole scene in the bar, not surprising though. He will be missed :(

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This is from Jessica Williams' web site, http://www.jessicawilliams.com/currents/elvin.html

 

ELVIN JONES

 

I miss him. I miss him and 'Trane and Miles and Monk. I miss people I knew a little more, I guess, like Dexter and Philly Joe and Tony Williams. And I didn't really know Elvin personally. I played one tune with him at the Keystone Korner, and I got hugged by him (and I was drenched with his sweat, all down the front of me, but it was pure water, there wasn't any scent to it, it was just pure clean sweat, cycled through a healthy human body, the healthiest human body you've ever seen) but I didn't knowElvin.

 

 

Then again, I knew him intimately. From A Love Supreme to Transition to Crescent, from his work with Larry Young on Blue Note and his work with Joe Farrell (Puttin it Together) to his playing with Earl Fatha Hines, I knew every triplet, the placement of every little nuance. I even learned how to play a few things on the drums that sounded a little bit like him, all triplet things, all about shifting the triplets around in different ways.

 

 

His drumming was organic. It told a story. It was a slipping and sliding backwards and forwards kind of feeling, and the space between the beats, at any tempo, was enormous. So much room to play over, and like a feather bed. Soft and warm and easy to feel. And so many said how loud he was, and I was there at the Keystone and it was two bands: Elvin's quartet, and the great Max Roach and his pianoless band (with Odean Pope and Cecil Bridgewater) and he was a whisper compared to Max. He was a butterfly.

 

 

And he sweat... he was playing this ballad with brushes, and it was like he was digging a big hole with soup spoons, and he was sweating rivers, and the time in that ballad was as deep as any river. He had the white towel around his neck, and he was beautiful to look at and listen to.

 

 

This is one more friend whose dying leaves a hole in my heart. I'll keep playing and believing in A Love Supreme. I'll play for Elvin, like I play for Dex, like I play for (and seek counsel with) Philly Joe.

 

 

This world won't be as complete, though, and this music we call jazz won't ever be quite the same without him.

 

 

Long live Elvin Jones. -Jessica Williams, 6.1.04

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