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Elvin Jones: Drumming Icon is Still Cooking

By Published: March 13, 2004
"There's a lot of misconception about time keeping. All it is, is a tempo. Old drummers, like Jo Jones, Jimmy Crawford, Cozy Cole, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, all those guys, they all had the same attitude about it. They kept time like metronomes. A clock within themselves that gave them that innate ability to stay on an even keel, no matter what the tempo happens to be. They could do it. It takes strength to do that. It isn't something that's just casual. They're doing a lot of things. They're reading a score. They're playing in a theater. They have to follow tap dancers and singers and comedians. They're doing all of that. It's not just to sit down and play a five-minute solo and your finished. It's your life, in that sense.

"That's what I respected about all these men. Tony Williams included. I thought he was a great drummer. You know Miles was crazy about him. He said, 'Wow, I got this little kid!' What was he, 16 years old or something? And he was amazing! He left his mark, as young as he was. [Williams died at age 51] He was a bright star."

Reminded that drummers like Williams evolved by listening, watching and taking things from the great Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes (another septagenarian), the kindly drummer deflected the praise. "I can only say thank you. I appreciate that. It's nice someone can recognize what you've done, that you've done something that's significant or important, even if it's just important to one or two people [laughter]. That you've made a contribution to the life of somebody."

For Jones and Haynes, playing at an age when many people find it hard to walk to the grocery store, Elvin has no secret. It's just work. "Well, if you play drums, that's a workout in itself. Just hauling them around and getting them set up. Playin' a job. It's a lot of work involved. It's a lot of movement."

He's played with some of the legendary artists of his day, and says he finds one common thread that runs through them. "They all have a deep sense of spirituality. It's a catalyst that's involved in each individual that excels in whatever his chosen field." And his experiences with people like Miles and Mingus are not unpleasant.

"I was with them for long periods of time. I never noticed anything volatile about them. No more than anybody else," says Jones. "Mingus liked to argue. He loved a debate. And I suppose it could be construed as volatile, but I don't think he just did that. He had to have something to talk about. I don't think anybody could match wits with him, on a daily basis. And he didn't really go around looking for things. He had his own opinions and he wasn't afraid to say them. Just speak up. Ands Miles was a very quiet guy. I've never seen him raise his voice."

So Jones keeps working and keeps being inspired. He's comfortable with his place, and yet still eager to explore new ground and find new musical experiences.

"I haven't seen the future yet, but I think it's gonna be all right. I don't feel gloomy about anything. It has nothing to do with what people like," he says. "It's what people have an opportunity to hear. Nowadays what people hear, they really don't have any control over it. And that's the problem. I don't think it's the music. The music is beautiful. I like to listen to any kind of music. I like banjos, guitars, all kinds. But if I can't have a choice, if I turn on my radio or television or go in a record store and there's nothing there but 'bam-bam-bam-bam,' or cussin' or calling everybody a mutha- something — that's not to my taste. The music doesn't have anything to do with that. I don't think the art form of jazz has anything at all to do with that."

The downturn in jazz record sales and gigs for many musicians, says Jones, "is a cycle. It isn't the first time. It happens every now and then. It just so happens that we're experiencing it again. But it will fade away because there's no substance to most of today's music. The problem is, who's doing it? I turn the radio off. I don't want to listen to this crap. I turn the television off. I'm looking at a movie and I hear a soundtrack and I hear this idiotic thing. I think — Listen, I'm not 2 years old.

Visit Elvin Jones on the web at .

"But I just don't believe that people who perpetrate that kind of fraud will last. Just like EnRon has come tumbling down. Everybody gets found out sooner or later."

Photo Credit
Jos Knaepen

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