By Chris Burnett
We lost one of the creative pioneers of music - American Jazz or whatever genre - on May 18, 2004. My wife and I got to actually meet both, he and his wife, while we waited within the main train station at Copenhagen. We were on our way back home from our honeymoon in 1979.
The meeting was just by chance...
We were walking along in the main terminal and I saw all of this band's equipment road cases, with some of the cats standing around their gear. On all of the drum cases was the name, Elvin Jones - Jazz Machine. I said "hello" to the musicians and asked one of them if Mr. Jones was there. The musicians initially looked me over like I was some sort of bozo and then I guess they obviously deduced that I wasn't any type of threat. The man with an alto saxophone gig bag on his shoulder answered, "Yes, he is around here somewhere"... They were all pretty cool and we could tell they had been on tour for a while because they seemed physically tired.
The Main Train Station - Copenhagen, Denmark
Then a few moments later, Mr. and Mrs. Jones came walking toward the group with their tickets to the next stop on their European tour. I was surprised when I actually saw him in person. He was actually a lot shorter than I thought he would be in physical stature, but his powerful chest, arms and hand strength was apparent. It was easy to see where the sheer and perpetual power with which he always seemed to play the drums came from.
And, during that chance of interacting with him in person, I found Elvin Jones to be one of those people who exuded and projected such an inner peace. So much so, that I have never forgotten those relatively few minutes he took to talk with us. He was very nice to both me and Terri. I just stood there, literally shaking his hand for what seemed like ten minutes, in what was an understandable state of awe during those first few moments.
Like so many other truly great artists I've met in person, Mr. Jones validated that you can be both, a decent person to other people and a genius artist at the same time. So, we hung out with them until our train was due to take us back to Germany where we lived at that time. We had met one of the giants, and just by chance...
My most lasting musical impressions of Elvin Jones' music will likely always be the work when he was with John Coltrane's quartet, which also included McCoy Tyner on piano - "My Favorite Things" album. It can be argued (and has been) that modern jazz drumming started there...
We have indeed lost another great musician and creative artist from that important era in American music. This musing is simply an humble salute and thanks to Elvin Jones, for both his artistry and his kindness to a couple of kids in March of 1979!