I miss people I knew well a little more, I guess, like Dexter and Philly Joe and Tony Williams. 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 know Elvin as a friend.
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
A Poem: Elvin's drum
When the music in my head is
louder than the music in my body,
I put on Elvin.
You know how the water feels when
you throw your head back in the shower and
you feel your hair down your back,
heavy with the running water,
you feel the silver tingling and then
the wild rush of that energy...
that energy that has caused so many wars and
so much death because it has been given
so many names,
all of the nine billion names of God;
that same energy that has created
so much life because it is the river of
love and birth and renewal and healing
and it created these words and all
the galaxies like grains of sand
...falling through you like the dust of angel's wings!
You feel your body, and you feel your life-force
from your crown to your pelvic floor, and you feel your feet
planted on the spinning, shining, singing orb that is your
warm and welcoming mother in this vast, cold, lonely,
and you shout your animal shout and
you smile at the smell of your sweet animal skin
and you shake and purr at the sound of the drum
primal as the big bang!
as deep as thunder on the plain!
familiar as a child's laughter!
Poem by Jessica Williams -8.9.04
Elvin Jones - September 9, 1927 - May 18, 2004. Written by Russell Carlson, JazzTimes Magazine
Elvin Jones, the legendary drummer most famous for his contributions to John Coltrane's classic, '60s quartet, but who went on to record dozens of acclaimed albums as leader, died yesterday (May 18, 2004) in Manhattan. He had been suffering heart, liver and kidney problems for months. He was 76.
Despite his ailing health, Jones was seen playing on stage just a few weeks ago, with an oxygen tank on stage.
Born in 1927, in Pontiac, Mich., Jones was the youngest of 10 children in a family that also included two other prominent jazz musicians, pianist Hank, who lives in Manhattan, and trumpeter Thad, who died in 1986. Jones started on drums at 13, and was by the early 1950s playing regular club gigs in Detroit with musicians like pianist Tommy Flanagan and guitarist Kenny Burrell. In 1955 Jones moved to New York, where he became a fixture on the scene and recorded with stars like Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins.
Jones' connection with Davis eventually led to the drummer's five-year stint with John Coltrane, who played saxophone in Davis' band in the '50s and had told Jones that he would hire him when he left Davis to form his own group.
That group came together in 1960 and, in addition to Coltrane and Jones, included bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist McCoy Tyner. Among other innovative records, the quartet recorded the masterpiece A Love Supreme, which is one of the best examples of Jones' pulsing rhythmic technique.
On the drum kit, Jones created a hypnotic and layered stew of sound. He had over the years expanded on the ideas of his counterparts Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, who had freed drummers from the chore of having to overtly keep time. Jones' style was all the more elastic, and with the freedom he enjoyed behind the kit, he helped draw great, inspired music from those who played with him.
After Jones left Coltrane's band in 1965 (the saxophonist had added Rashied Ali to the lineup as a second kit-crasher and an annoyed Jones split), he focused on his leader career, which had begun in 1961 with the recording of Elvin!, a record that featured his brothers Thad and Hank.
Through the late '60s and into the early '70s Jones recorded a string of acclaimed hard-bop albums, mostly released on the Blue Note label. As time wore on and the jazz scene changed, Jones' bands increasingly included younger musicians, and in this way Jones' groups could be considered the best kind of jazz school. In the 1990s, Jones recorded five records for the Enja label that tended to feature members of the Young Lions school of jazz players like Nicholas Payton and Joshua Redman. He was in his '60s, but the records prove he had as much verve, spirit and skill as ever.
Jones is survived his wife, Keiko, a son and a daughter.
©2004 JazzTimes, Inc