Elvin Ray Jones was born on September 9, 1927 in Pontiac, Michigan, the youngest of ten children. Born into a musical family to say the least; among his siblings are jazz greats Hank and Thad Jones. By the time Elvin was thirteen years old he was already determined to be a great drummer, practicing 8-10 hours a day. Early drum influences for Elvin included Max Roach, Kenny Clarke and Jo Jones.
In 1946 Elvin joined the army and toured with a Special Services show called Operation Happiness until he was discharged in 1949, honing his skills all the while. He returned to Detroit and played for band leader Billy Mitchell as well as arranging local weekly concerts with his brother Thad. During this time he got the chance to play behind many of the greats passing through, including Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Pepper Adams, Milt Jackson and Yusef Latif.
Elvin left Detroit for New York City to audition for Benny Goodman but ended up with Charles Mingus. It was during this time he met up with saxophone legend John Coltrane and joined Coltrane's band in 1960 until 1966. Elvin Jones on playing with Coltrane: "Right from the beginning to the last time we played together it was something pure. The most impressive thing was a feeling of steady, collective learning... If there is anything like perfect harmony in human relationships, that band was as close as you can come."
After Coltrane, Elvin led his own bands including his trio with Joe Farrell and Jimmy Garrison and The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. Elvin passed away in New York in 2004 and leaves a legacy of nearly 500 recordings and changed the way every jazz drummer following him approached the instrument.
“Playing is not something I do, at night. It’s my function in life” – Elvin Jones
Note: In the first video in the play list you’ll see Elvin on drums, backing up John Coltrane on soprano sax, in the classic quartet. In the second video, that is Ravi Coltrane, John’s son, playing soprano sax in Elvin’s group. That’s the circle of jazz!