Few drummers have ever reached musical pinnacles and generated as much admiration as Elvin Jones did. He resides in the one-name pantheon of the greats of our instrument along with Gene, Buddy, Max, Tony, Louie and Vinnie.
His playing, while not impervious to academic study, does not fully reveal itself to simple dissection. Bill Stewart, for instance, feels that Elvin’s drumming was not of this world, but “from Mars.” His drumming magic resides “in the cracks,” a phrase Art Blakey once used to describe African drumming. Elvin had a feel and an attitude all his own and when he was in the right situation with the right musicians, his impact was tremendous.
Elvin’s drumming drew an indelible line through the history of jazz. To bassist Ron Carter, there was drumming before Elvin, and drumming after Elvin. Elvin’s drumming was to drumming that came before him, as calculus is to simple arithmetic. While grounded in the same basic fundamentals as his predecessors, he made leaps that made sense once he had done them but that no one had thought of previously. He was, simply, one of a kind.