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Elvin Jones Dies

Elvin Jones, the legendary drummer most famous for his contributions to John Coltrane’s classic, ’60s quartet, but who went on to record dozens of acclaimed albums as leader, died yesterday in Englewood, N.J. He had been suffering heart, liver and kidney problems for months. He was 76.

Despite his ailing health, Jones was seen playing on stage just a few weeks ago, with an oxygen tank on stage.

Born in 1927, in Pontiac, Mich., Jones was the youngest of 10 children in a family that also included two other prominent jazz musicians, pianist Hank, who lives in Manhattan, and trumpeter Thad, who died in 1986. Jones started on drums at 13, and was by the early 1950s playing regular club gigs in Detroit with musicians like pianist Tommy Flanagan and guitarist Kenny Burrell. In 1955 Jones moved to New York, where he became a fixture on the scene and recorded with stars like Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins.

Jones’ connection with Davis eventually led to the drummer’s five-year stint with John Coltrane, who played saxophone in Davis’ band in the ’50s and had told Jones that he would hire him when he left Davis to form his own group. That group came together in 1960 and, in addition to Coltrane and Jones, included bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist McCoy Tyner. Among other innovative records, the quartet recorded the masterpiece A Love Supreme, which is one of the best examples of Jones’ pulsing rhythmic technique.

On the drum kit, Jones created a hypnotic and layered stew of sound. He had over the years expanded on the ideas of his counterparts Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, who had freed drummers from the chore of having to overtly keep time. Jones’ style was all the more elastic, and with the freedom he enjoyed behind the kit, he helped draw great, inspired music from those who played with him.

After Jones left Coltrane’s band in 1965 (the saxophonist had added Rashied Ali to the lineup as a second kit-crasher and an annoyed Jones split), he focused on his leader career, which had begun in 1961 with the recording of Elvin!, a record that featured his brothers Thad and Hank.

Through the late ’60s and into the early ’70s Jones recorded a string of acclaimed hard-bop albums, mostly released on the Blue Note label. As time wore on and the jazz scene changed, Jones’ bands increasingly included younger musicians, and in this way Jones’ groups could be considered the best kind of jazz school. In the 1990s, Jones recorded five records for the Enja label that tended to feature members of the Young Lions school of jazz players like Nicholas Payton and Joshua Redman. He was in his ’60s, but the records prove he had as much verve, spirit and skill as ever.

Jones is survived his wife, Keiko, a son and a daughter.

Originally Published