Dobbin's Den

May 2004

The first time I ever heard ELVIN JONES was back in 1954 when he arrived for an engagement at the Latin Quarter on (then) Mountain Street, along with pianist Tommy Flanagan and Alvin Jackson, Milt's bass playing brother, in a Milt Jackson Quartet. At this point both Elvin and Tommy's fame hadn't spread much beyond Detroit. On February 20, 1999, 45 years later, Elvin did a workshop (wearing a red Canadians sweater) at Salle Gesu and when during question period I asked him if that was the first time he played Montreal. His answer was in the affirmative and he not only remembered the name of the club but also how cold the weather was. That morning I had come across a postcard that Pepper Adams had sent me from Europe and when I showed it to him, Elvin said, "There's not a day goes by that I don't think of him."

Not long after that appearance here, Charles Mingus wrote a "open letter" to Down Beat about a trip to Detroit where he "discovered" Thad Jones, who he goes on to rave about and then also mentions, that he has a brother Elvin, a drummer worth noting. The next time I heard Elvin live was in 1957 at the Café Bohemia, on NY's Barrow Street, with a J.J. Johnson Quintet consisting of Bobby Jaspar, Tommy Flanagan and Wilbur Little.

Elvin Jones died at the age of 76 yesterday afternoon, May 18, 2004, in an Englewood, N.J. hospital. As had been reported earlier, he was suffering from heart failure. Despite this knowledge the news came as shock. He had a heart attack many years ago while performing at "In Concert", a now defunct club on Le Moyne in Old Montreal. He was one of my all time favourite musicians and as result of my friendship with many Detroit musicians, Pepper Adams in particular, I got to hang with him on many occasions, all of them now cherished memories.

He was born Elvin Ray Jones in Pontiac, September 9, 1927, one of 10 children, 3 of whom became noted jazz musicians. Pianist Hank, who'll be 86 on July 31, has just had an album he did with Joe Lovano released on Blue Note, and the late, cornet player, band leader and composer / arranger Thad, who was born March 28, 1923 and died at the age of 63 in Denmark on August 20, 1986, less than a month prior to Pepper Adams.

A self taught musician, Elvin began playing at the age of 12 and honed his craft while in the Service from 1946-49. Upon his release he began to be heard around Detroit at places like the Bluebird. On Sunday afternoon, July 17, 1955, he was heard at the 2nd Newport Jazz Festival with a group consisting of Charles Mingus, Mal Waldron, Teddy Charles, Art Farmer, Teo Macero, John La Porta, Britt Woodman and Eddie Bert. Eight days earlier Elvin, Teddy, Mingus, Woodman and Miles Davis had recorded a session that was released as "Blue Moods" on Mingus and Max Roach's Debut label. (Now available as an OJC CD). By 1956 Elvin was working in the trio (with Mingus) of pianist Bud Powell in NY and began to be heard with Pepper, Donald Byrd, Tyree Glenn and Harry "Sweets" Edison. In 1960 he began a long stint that would make him one of the most famous drummers in jazz history, the classic John Coltrane Quartet with (for the most part) McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison and it was my pleasure to have heard them in Montreal on a number of occasions as well as at the Village Gate in NYC when the band was expanded. That night I heard, as part of a triple bill, John, McCoy and Elvin with Eric Dolphy and Reggie Workman and Art Davis, in a preview of what would appear on the "Africa Brass" session. (For the record the other two bands were the Horace Silver Quintet and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers). In the late 60 / 70s after leaving Trane, Elvin worked briefly with Tony Scott and then formed the first of his own groups with people like Joe Farrell, Billy Greene, Little or Garrison. Later the moniker "Jazz Machine" was used for his groups and musicians like Pat LaBarbera, Lew Soloff, Sonny Fortune, Richard Davis, Willie Pickens, John's son Ravi Coltrane, George Mraz, Joshua Redman, Nicholas Payton, Brad Jones and Javon Jackson were heard with Elvin. He appeared here at In Concert, The Rising Sun and The Montreal International Jazz Festival and was scheduled to appear as part of the latter's 25th Anniversary celebrations at Theatre Maisonneuve on July 1st. Thankfully I was able to tell him that at the Pepper Adams Memorial at St. Peter's in September 1986, he played what I deemed was the greatest drum solo I had ever heard--I hope someone is so inspired at Elvin's memorial. Thanks, Elvin, for all the music, the memories and the kindness and my condolences to Keiko.


Elvin Jones had a prolific recording career and can be found on recordings by:

Pepper Adams [10 to 4 at the 5 Spot -1958 and Encounter -1968], Michael Brecker [Time Is If The Essence], Ray Brown [Something For Lester -1977], Kenny Burrell [Blue Moods -- 1957 and parts of Guitar Forms], Jaki Byard [Sunshine of My Soul -- 1967], Ornette Coleman [New York Is Now -- 1968], Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane [including My Favorite Things -- 1960, Africa Brass -- 1961 and A Love Supreme -- 1962], Miles Davis [Blue Moods -- 1955], Stefano Di Battista [2000], Duke Ellington [& Coltrane -- 1962], Gil Evans [Out of the Cool -- 1960 and Individualism -- 1963/4] Art Farmer's [Farmer's Market -- 1956], Tommy Flanagan [Trio Overseas -- 1957 and Super Trio - 1980], Jimmy Forrest [All the Gin's Gone and Black Forrest -- 1959], Chico Freeman [Beyond The Rain -- 1977], Bill Frisell [Trio -- 2001] Stan Getz [Getz and Bill Evans -- 1964], Dizzy Gillespie [Live at the Village Vanguard with Pepper Adams -- 1967], Grant Green [Music Matador and Solid! -- 1964], Steve Grossman [Time To Smile -- 1993], Barry Harris [Preminado -- 1961], Joe Henderson [In 'n' Out and Inner Urge -- 1964], Shirley Horn [The Main Ingredient -- 1995], Javon Jackson [Me and Mr. Jones -- 1991], Bobby Jaspar [with George Wallington -- 1957], J.J. Johnson [Live at the Bohemia -1957], Hank Jones [Upon Reflection -- 1993], Thad Jones [Mad Thad -- 1956], Clifford Jordan [Mosaic -- 1961], Barney Kessel [Feeling Free -- 1969], Rahsaan Roland Kirk [Rip, Rig and Panic -- 1965], Lee Konitz [Duets -- 1967], Steve Lacy [Reflections -- 1958]

Joe Lovano [Trio Fascination -- 1997], John McLaughlin [After The Rain -- 1994], Helen Merrill [A Shade of Difference -- 1968], David Murray [Special Quartet -- 1990], Phineas Newborn [Harlem Blues -- 1969] Art Pepper [Nights at the Vanguard (9 CDs) -- 1977], Julian Priester [Keep Swingin' -- 1960], Dewey Redman [Momentum Space -- 1998], Red Rodney [1957], Sonny Rollins [At Village Vanguard -1957 and East Broadway Rundown -- 1966], Wayne Shorter [Night Dreamer and Juju and Speak No Evil -- 1964], McCoy Tyner [Inception -- 1962, Plays Duke Ellington -- 1964, Real McCoy -- 1967 and Trident -- 1975], Mal Waldron [Mal-3 -- 1958], Bennie Wallace [Big Jim's Tango -- 1982], James Williams [Awesome! -- 1999], Larry Young [Into Something -- 1964 and Unity -- 1965]. These would seem to currently available as CDs and there are a number of issues under Elvin's name including "Elvin!" from 1961/62 that has both Thad and Hank on board with Franks Wess and Foster and Art Davis.

(CKUT's Dobbin's Den will present a memorial salute on Sunday, May 30th from 11am to 1pm EST)

© Len Dobbin 2003
Montreal, Quebec, Canada