Elvin Jones:- The legendary jazz drummer
Friday, May 04, 2012
The evolution of Jazz spanned from ragtime marching bands to the present. We have traced how this evolution took shape from the marching bans, to Big Bands playing swing, to mainstream Jazz and then after, bebop, post bebop and everything else that came after that.
What is important to note here, is that jazz music originated in the U.S. in the 19th Century, though the confrontation of blacks with European music. Jazz differs from European music in that it has a special relationship to time which is defined as “Swing” there have been many attempts to define Jazz, but none of them is complete or satisfactory because of its evolving nature.
While it may be difficult to define, improvisation is clearly one of its key elements. Jazz music is a spontaneous and vital musical production in which improvisation plays an integral role, and the sonority ad manner of phrasing by the performing musician is usually a mirror of his/her individuality.
It is music that includes qualities such as “Swinging, improvising, group interaction, developing an individual voice and being open to different musical possibilities. It is alsothe product of egalitarian creatively, interaction and collaboration, placing equal value on the contribution of the composer of performer.
In European classical music, the elements of interpretation, ornamentation and accompaniment, are at times left to the discretion of the performer whose primary role is to play a composition as it was written. European classical music is said to be the composers medium, while in jazz, the skilled performer will interpret a time in a very individual way, never playing the same composition exactly the same way twice, all depending on his mood, experience, interaction with other musicians and even the audience.
The early structures of blues offer repetitive call and response pattern which is a common element in African American oral tradition, and in New Orleans and Dixieland Jazz, performers often took turns playing the melody, while others improvise countermelodies. By the time of swing and the big band era, there was more reliance an arranged music that was either written or learned by ear and memorized, as it was common place that many early jazz performers could not read music.
Our feature this week is about someone whose early interest in jazz was influenced by the marching bands that he watched as a child, and become fascinated by the drummers. His name is Elvin Jones and he was born Elvin ray Jones in Poritiac, Michigan, on September 9th, 1927. He is an American jazz drummer of the post bop era who became fascinated will drums at the age of two, and following this early passion, he joined his high school black marching band where he developed his foundation in rudiments.
After leaving high school, joined the U.S Army in 1946, was discharged in 1949 and returned home broke and unemployed. He then borrowed thirty five dollars from his sister and bought his first drum set. He began his professional career in 1949 playing at a local club in Detroit called the Grand River Street Club. In 1955, in auditioned for the Benny Goodman Band, but was not successful, and then decided to move to New York where there were more opportunities for jazz sidemen to fine work. While in New York, he joined Charles Mingus band and later release a record called J is for Jazz.
In 1960, Jones joined the classic john Coltrane Quarlet which also included Bassit Jimmy Garrison and planist McCoy Tyner. This band is widely considered to have redefined “Swing” (i.e the rhythmic feel of jazz) in as much the same way that Lonis Armstrong and Charles Parker did during the early stapes of Jazz.
Jones and Coltrane would often play extended duets together and he stayed with Coltrane until 1966 when he left the band to give way for the group’s second drummers - Rashied Ali who had a multi directional approach to the music as opposed to the polyrhythmic and style of Jones.
After leaving Coltrane, he remained active and led several bands in the 60s and 70s notable among those bands, was a trio formed with saxophonist and multi instrumentalist Joe Farrell and bassist Jimmy Garrison with whom, Elvin recorded the Blue Note album-Putting It Together.
Jones would record extensively, for the Blue Note under his own name and later with groups that featured prominent artists as well as up and coming ones. Other musicians who made significant contributions to Elvin’s music, were baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, and tenor saxophonist George Coleman and Frank Foster, Trumpeter Lee Morgan and Keyboardist Jan Hammer.
Jone’s sense of timing, his dynamic and focus on ploytythms brought the drumset to the foreground of jazz music. His free following style became a major influence on many leading rock drummers including Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Bakar.
Jones performed and recorded with his won band the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, whose line up changed through the years. Sonny Fortune and Ravi Coltrane (John Clearance’s Son) both played saxophone with the Jazz Machine through the 90’s performing and touring with Elvin, also recording and album called in Europe.
Jones was known to give free concerts in Prisons and also gave lessons on Music history and drumming. He died of heart failure in Englewood, New Jersey, on May 18th 2004. Together with Art Blakely Max Roach, Jones is considered one of the legendary Jazz drummers to date. We continue to solicit your support for sponsorship of this column, so that it can be sustained
Author: Mahtarr E Njai