AKA Elvin Ray Jones
Birthplace: Pontiac, MI
Location of death: Englewood, NJ
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Different Drummer
Military service: US Army (1946-49)
Elvin Jones was the last of ten children born to a Baptist deacon/auto worker and his wife, and one of three of his siblings to make a significant impact on the jazz world. His eldest brother, Hank Jones, established himself as a leading pianist, while his brother Thad Jones became a successful cornetist/flugelhorn player and bandleader; Elvin himself developed an unshakeable determination to be a drummer by his early teens, and devoted long hours every day to realize this ambition. After a period spent in local bands he enlisted in the army in 1946, during which time he worked as a stagehand with a touring Special Services show and continued his musical development by performing at social events. Upon his discharge in 1949 he returned to Detroit and immersed himself in the lively jazz scene, landing his first professional gig at Grand River Street before moving on to work at the Bluebird Inn, where was given the opportunity to back visiting musicians such as Charlie Parker, Wardell Gray and Miles Davis. He kept him self busy outside of the Inn by organizing jam sessions at his home and participating in a concert series held at a local university.
In 1955 Jones traveled to New York to audition for bandleader/clarinetist Benny Goodman; he was not given the job, but a tour with a band led by Charles Mingus resulted instead, providing him the opportunity to give his career some forward momentum. This was followed by membership in the Bud Powell Trio, more work with Miles Davis, a session with Sonny Rollins and several other projects and collaborations. His most renowned association came about in 1960, when he was invited to join the quartet led by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane - a group which became one of the most inluential ensembles in the history of jazz. Jones remained active with Coltrane until early 1966, creating landmark albums such as Live at the Village Vanguard (1961), A Love Supreme (1964), and Ascension (1965). Eventually Coltrane brought in a second drummer, and Jones decided it was time to leave, signing on for a short tour of Europe with Duke Ellington before returning to New York to initiate his own projects.
In the late 60s Jones signed on to the Blue Note label and began working with a series of drum/wind/bass trios, later moving on to larger ensembles that came to be known as The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine in the 1990s. In the decades subsequent to establishing himself as a bandleader, a schedule of near-constant touring was undertaken, involving venues of all kinds and sizes in diverse corners of the world. A brief venture into acting took place at the start of the 1970s with a role in Zachariah, a film written by the bent minds behind the Firesign Theater radio-comedy troupe; a documetary film about his life, Different Drummer was released at the end of the decade. Countless new and established players participated in Jones' groups throughout the years, but his most enduring collaborator remained his wife Keiko: the two met in Nagasaki in 1966, and for the remainder of his life she acted as his personal and business manager, as well contributing a number of compositions to his repetoire and serving as an occasional drum tech. Jones remained an active performer essentially up until his death, which occured in May of 2004 as a result of heart failure.
Father: (worked for GM)
Brother: Hank Jones (musician b. 1918)
Brother: Thad Jones (musician b. 1923, d. 1986)
Wife: Keiko (his business manager, m. 1966)
The John Coltrane Quartet Drummer (1960-66)
The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine Drummer/Bandleader
NEA Jazz Master 2003
U.S. Narcotic Farm
Risk Factors: Heroin
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
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