The first time I had my hand crushed by Elvin Ray Jones was March 11, 2000. I remember it was a particularly snowy night in Boston and my sister and I jumped on the subway across the charming, but dirty Charles River into Cambridge, MA. Just a few steps from Harvard Square, the Regattabar Jazz club stood on the 2nd floor of the Charles Hotel and featured glass elevators that gave visitors a glimpse of the stage as they arrived. I don't remember the walk very well from the subway to the club, but I do remember seeing Elvin's drums for the first time. Sparkled gold toms gleamed back at me like a Byzantine chapel, and the once clear glass on the elevator quickly fogged up with anticipation.
The evening was amazing and featured Steve Kirby on bass, Erik Davis on piano, Antoine Rooney on tenor sax, Darren Barrett on trumpet, and of course Elvin on drums. Elvin was more powerful then anything a recording could ever capture. I had worn out Blue Train and A Love Supreme as a kid, and even when cranked to ear-bleeding decibels, nothing compared to the force that was Elvin Jones live. His 18" bass drum was tuned high and his toms rode so far above the bass drum that I thought the tom mount might come crashing down. His cymbals were washy and full of dark earthy life, and Elvin was instantly 30 years younger the moment he started to play. Rolling toms, violent off-beat snare attacks, and crashes on the ride cymbal that started somewhere behind his head, Elvin was in total command of his sound and instrument from the first note to the last. One of my teachers at Berklee, Bob Kaufman, used to tell me to sing the melody of the song in my head as Elvin solos to really hear what he is doing. If you didn't do that, you could easily get lost in his drumming, which is OK too, but harder to appreciate the level of mastery he was displaying. I listened intently and absorbed as much of his playing as I possibly could.
|Jeffrey Lien with Elvin Jones - March 11, 2000|
After the show I got the nerve to go meet him face-to-face, and get my drum head signed. He was a true honest to God gentleman, and he exuded a grace and loving presence that I'd never experienced before or since. His voice was very deep and his legendary handshake was indeed, legendary. I was lucky enough to see Elvin a few more times in NYC before his passing, and every time I did I was left with a full heart and the inspiration to keep going on this path.
A few months back I started working on the song, "Deluge," by Wayne Shorter featured on the 1964 recording, JuJu. This record, along with Wayne's next album, Speak No Evil, are some of my favorite records of all time. Elvin sounds loose, relaxed, and always evolving. I love to transcribe solos and learn that part of the language, but sometimes I really enjoy writing down a drummers comping. I find it meditative to listen to the drums interacting with the soloist, weaving in and out of both support and influence. Below is the first of three pages I have transcribed of Deluge. The transcription goes from the beginning of the song through 3 choruses of Wayne Shorter's soloing. I think you will find that it is a great look into Elvin's style, and his inspiring approach to accompaniment.
I feel blessed and highly favored somewhere in the Universe to have been given the opportunity to not only experience Elvin Jones' playing first hand, but to share actual time with him. It was a true honor.
|Elvin Jones autographed drum head above my work desk|
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To purchase the transcription please visit the online store or click here. Please note I transcribed the beginning through 3 choruses of Wayne Shorter's solo, so not a complete transcription.