Jones, Elvin (Ray)

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Jones, Elvin (Ray)

Jones, Elvin (Ray), jazz drummer, band leader; younger brother of Hank Jones and Thad Jones; b. Pontiac, Mich., Sept. 9, 1927. He became a legend during his years with Coltrane (1960–66). His playing dances around the beat with unprecendented freedom, and creates an exceptionally hard-driving swing. He plays loudly, yet he is able to pick up on rhythmic nuances of other soloists with uncanny telepathy. He will solo at great length; his play with the pitches of the drums creates a musical composition that is spellbinding.

Jones joined the school band at age 13 and considered classical tympani as a career. He performed with local groups in Pontiac and Detroit before playing in military bands during his service in the U.S. Army (1946–49); there he plaved bass drum in the same group as Willie Ruff. At this time, he first heard Charlie Parker recordings with Max Roach and decided to emulate them. After service, he performed in Mich., including groups led by Thad Jones and Billy Mitchell, and then came to N.Y. in mid-1955, where he played for about 18 months with J. J. Johnson’s quintet (including a 1957 tour of Germany, France, Switzerland, and two months in Scandinavia). He also played in Donald Byrd’s quintet, as well as working with Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins (sitting in for Pete LaRoca, the regular drummer, at a live Village Vanguard recording), Tyree Glenn, and Stan Getz. He first played with Coltrane in Philadelphia, probably in 1958 or 1959, replacing Philly Joe Jones in a group led by Coltrane while Miles Davis was between tours. Jones was touring and recording with veteran trumpeter Harry Edison at least through February 1960, and then is said to have been arrested for drug possession and served time at Riker’s Island in N.Y.

Meanwhile, Coltrane had made it clear that Jones was his top choice to play in his quartet which began performing May 2, 1960, with Pete LaRoca. At the end of September 1960 Jones became available and Coltrane flew him to a gig at Sonny’s Lounge in Denver, where he alternated with the drummer hired for the gig, Billy Higgins. Though Jones was the regular drummer for the quartet, he was notoriously unreliable, a heroin addict (and alcoholic, who chased women) and there are many drummers around the U.S. and in Canada who sat in for a set or more until Jones arrived. The longest absence occurred when Jones was incarcerated in Lexington, Ky., for drug possession from May through early August 1963; this was the delayed result of his having been busted in Boston returning from a European tour in early December 1962. During this period Coltrane’s main drummer was Roy Haynes. When Coltrane hired Rashied Ali as second drummer in the fall of 1965, Jones became dissatisfied for two reasons: the emphasis was no longer on swinging but on free time, and he and Ali competed personally and in volume. Finally, on Jan. 26, 1966, Jones took off without notice from a Coltrane gig at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop and flew to Frankfurt, Germany, to accept an offer to join the Ellington band. However, to his dismay he found that Ellington intended to keep his other drummer, putting Jones back in a two-drum team. He played four concerts, then left, stopping off in Paris and finally returning to N.Y., where he announced plans to freelance. However he did return to Coltrane’s group for a concert in early March 1967 at Stanford Univ. followed by a week at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop. His final performance with Coltrane appears to have been two shows on April 24 in Brooklyn at St. Gregory’s Rectory.

He subsequently led his own groups, touring widely in the U.S., Europe, South America, and the Orient. His first trio with Joe Farrell was filmed (for BBC TV). Later versions of his groups included Frank Foster, Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Pat LaBarbera, Ravi Coltrane, and in 1997 Sonny Fortune (on tenor). Since the mid-1980s, his group was called the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. He regularly tours Europe and Japan. In the late 1990s, he played in Europe with Sonny Sharrock and Charnett Moffett and Pharaoh Sanders. He uses three 20-inch crash cymbals, high-hat cymbals of 14 inches (Istanbul), and Yamaha drums—two floor torn toms, respectively 18 ξ 18 and 16 ξ 16, mounted torn toms on the bass drum (8 ξ 12 and 9 ξ 13), and a custom-made snare drum, 8 ξ 14. This drum set gives him a pitch range of practically two octaves.


Elvinl (1961); Elvin Jones and Company (1961); Together (1961); Illumination (1963); Dear John C (1965); And Then Again (1965); Midnight Walk (1966); Heavy Sounds (1968); Ultimate Elvin Jones (1968); Puttin’ It Together (1968); Live at the Village Vanguard (1968); Heavy Sounds (1968); Prime Element (1969); Poly-Currents (1969); Mr. Jones (1969); Coalition (1970); Merry-Go-Round (1971); Genesis (1971); Live at the Lighthouse, Vol. 1, 2 (1972); New Agenda (1975); Impulse Years (1975); Elvin Jones Is on the Mountain (1975); Summit Meeting (1976); Elvin Jones Live at the Town Hall (1976); Time Capsule (1977); Very R.A.R.E. (1978); Remembrance (1978);Love & Peace (1978); Live in Japan 1978 (1978); Different Drummer (video; 1979); Hearf fo Heart (1980); Reunited (1982); For john (1982); Earth Jones (1982); Brother john (1982); Love Me with All Your Heart (1983); Live at the Village Vanguard, V (1984); In Europe (1991); Elvin Jones Jazz Machine in Europe (1991); Youngblood (1992); It Don’t Mean a Thing (1993). jones brothers:Jones Boys (1957); Keepin’ up with the Joneses (1958).

—Lewis Porter

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Jones, Elvin (Ray)

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