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Jazz Legend Elvin Jones Dies

Drummer played on classic Coltrane recordings

May 19, 2004 12:00 AM ET
Drummer Elvin Jones, whose distinctive style helped define the sound of John Coltrane's classic quartet, died of heart failure in an Englewood, New Jersey, hospital; he was seventy-six.

Jones was a larger-than-life figure, known among friends and fans for bearish hugs and radiant grins, the latter often flashed as he splashed his signature, cymbal-centric rhythmic patterns on his drum kit with a superhuman energy and thunderous effect. Jones' tenure with Coltrane was just five years, but the albums they recorded with pianist McCoy Tyner and bassist Jimmy Garrison were part of the vanguard of Sixties jazz and continue to be a standard by which recordings in the genre are measured, peaking with 1964's A Love Supreme, one of the finest jazz albums ever recorded.

But the measure of Jones' career extends well beyond those five years. Elvin Ray Jones was born in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1927; two of his siblings were also jazz players. By the early Forties, he was playing around Detroit, before a stint in the military. By the Fifties, Jones was scoring regular work, recording with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Burrell, Stan Getz and numerous others, before joining Coltrane's groundbreaking troupe. Even while working with Coltrane, Jones' drums could be heard on landmark Sixties recordings by Grant Green and Joe Henderson. The partnership between Coltrane and Jones began to sour by the mix-Sixties when the saxophonist added drummer Rashied Ali to the lineup and began making moves towards a more experimental style of free jazz.

Since the early Sixties, Jones also maintained a busy schedule as a bandleader, recording dozens of albums under his own name or with his Jazz Machine. With that ensemble he's also been something of a talent scout, bringing things full circle with 1991's Live in Europe that featured a young Ravi Coltrane on saxophone.

Jones remained an active player and recording artist almost to the point of his death. A frail and gaunt Jones showed up for a gig in San Francisco last month after having spent weeks in the hospital. The weakened drummer needed help from his wife to get behind his kit, but according to a post by one fan, "his time and sound was impeccable."

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