Elvin Jones Biography
Died on May 18, 2004 from heart failure.
Called by Life magazine "the world's greatest rhythmic drummer". He had two musician brothers: Hank Jones, a jazz pianist, and Thad Jones, a trumpet and flugelhorn player. Jones entered the Detroit jazz scene in the late 1940s after touring as a stagehand with the Army Special Services show Operation Happiness. After a brief gig at the Detroit club Grand River Street, he went to work at another club, backing up such jazz greats as Parker, Davis and Wardell Grey. Jones, with his rhythmic, innovative style, became one of jazz's most famous drummers under Coltrane.
By age 13, determined to be a drummer, Elvin was practicing eight to ten hours a day. In 1946 Elvin enlisted in the Army, and toured with a Special Services show called Operation Happiness - as a stagehand. Unofficially, however, he was honing his own musical skills and gaining confidence, playing at post social affairs. Jones was discharged in 1949, returning to a Detroit musical scene that was as vibrant as any outside New York. Elvin began to frequent the Bluebird Inn. In time, Jeader Billy Mitchell hired Elvin, and in three years at the club he backed up visiting stars including the legendary Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Wardell Grey, and, for six months, Miles Davis. In Addition, Monday nights there were jam sessions Elvin organized at his home. The long list of musicians Elvin played with during this period includes Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Tommy Flanagan, Pepper Adams, Barry Harris, Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Lou Hayes and Yusef Lateef. Elvin made his move to New York ostensibly to audition for a new Benny Goodman band. Instead, he ended up with Charles Mingus, and in subsequent years he developed his style with Bud Powell, Miles Davis, the Pepper Adams-Donald Byrd Quintet, Art Farmer and J.J. Johnson. He also had his first experiences playing with Miles' tenor man and the increasingly celebrated recording artist John Coltrane. After leaving Miles in 1960, Coltrane was touring in San Francisco with his new group when he flew back to New York to seek out Elvin. Through 1966, Elvin contributed to some of the most controversial, influential, and ultimately important music in jazz. Among the triumphant recordings from his great association are "A love Supreme" and "Coltrane 'Live' at the Village Vanguard". In March 1966, Elvin left Coltrane. After a brief European tour with Duke Ellington's band he returned to New York to begin his distinguished career as leader, with a series of innovative piano-less trios featuring Joe Farrell on tenor alto and flute, and one of several bassists including Jimmy Garrison, Bill Wood, Charlie Haden and Wilbur Little. Elvin has been heard on nearly 500 recordings, with no end in sight. He also made a temporary detour to Hollywood in 1971 to appear as the character Job Cain in the ABC Paramount film "Zachariah". Reflecting his deep commitment to the music "Playing is not something I do at night" he said, "It's my function in life".