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Elvin Jones: The Company of Thunder

Highlights of the singular drummer's career are represented in this timeline tribute compiled by Ashley Kahn with additional reporting by Nate Chinen

Elvin Jones with Hank Jones, May 2002
Elvin Jones with Joe Henderson and Shirley Horn, 1995
Elvin Jones with Joe Henderson and Shirley Horn, 1995 (photo: Jimmy Katz)
Elvin Jones at the Metropolis Club, New York City, Oct. 9, 1994
Elvin Jones outside the studio after the first take of Ascension, June 28, 1965
Elvin Jones at the Village Vanguard, New York City, 1971
Elvin Jones with Cecil Taylor, June 2000
Elvin Jones with Joe Lovano and Dave Holland, Sept. 1998
Elvin Jones in Paris, 1986
Elvin Jones kit at Avatar Studios, May 2002
Elvin Jones in a Gretsch drum ad, 1958
Elvin Jones with Coltrane in Frankfurt, Germany, 1963

How to properly measure a life in music-by discography, a sum of all performances and recordings? By honors and credits, totaling awards and other merits of distinction? By witness and wake of influence, through testimonials of colleagues and contemporaries?

Elvin Ray Jones, who passed away May 18, 2004, presents a challenge that demands all approaches and pushes for more. What he accomplished in his expansive career-and how he connected with fellow musicians and fans-is well beyond simple measure. In the weeks that followed his death in New York City, there was a wake, a memorial service and a four-day tribute at the Blue Note jazz club. At each, music was played and praise was given to the polyrhythmic upstart, the generous teacher, the father, the husband, the caring bandleader, who spread love and mumbled as he worked the brushes.

One of the most accurate assessments of Elvin’s effect-personally, musically-was stated by his cousin Cecilia, wife of Frank Foster. She said being with Elvin was being “in the company of thunder.”

The thunder has passed.

The annotated timeline that follows is neither complete nor intended to be. It is meant to celebrate and suggest the breadth of a joyful whirlwind one man created in his lifetime.

Sept. 9, 1927 Born Elvin Ray Jones in Pontiac, Mich., the youngest of 10 children. His twin, Elvin Roy, dies at nine months. Father is a General Motors lumber inspector and Baptist deacon; elder brothers include Hank, a pianist, and Thad, a trumpeter.


1930s Recalls being drawn to music at an early age-in school, at weekly church socials, even his neighborhood, where he befriends an itinerant blues guitarist. “His name was Red, that’s the only name he went by. He was in the numbers racket, and used to go around and pick up the numbers from all houses in the neighborhood. He showed me how to play ‘Blues All Around My Bed’ on guitar, one of the first pieces I learned how to play.”

1939 Begins drum lessons in junior high school, and formulates the rudiments of his own style. “I listened to Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. I listened to the solos-I heard what you could call breaks…didn’t seem too complex to me. I thought it would still be possible to do that with one hand and not interrupt the consistency of the cymbal rhythm. So it sort of grew from that point.”

1946 After traveling to Boston with friends, joins the military in Newark, N.J. Though immediately instilled as a member of the marching band, he admits feeling of the music community like he was “on the outside looking in, more or less…”

“I would go out to Jazz at the Philharmonic, with my uniform pressed, I would listen to Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins and my brother Hank and Ella Fitzgerald, and Charlie Parker…they were like teachers to me.”

Hank recalls: “Whenever we would come to Columbus [Ohio] near the base where he was stationed, Elvin would come backstage and stay the whole day there. He admired Buddy Rich very much; Buddy was the drummer for JATP.”


1953 In perhaps his first commercial session, records on the four-tune EP Billy Mitchell Presents Thad Jones (Dee Gee/Savoy.)

1955 Invited to audition for the Benny Goodman Orchestra, leaves Detroit for New York within 12 hours of receiving the call.

He later tells Whitney Balliett: “The audition was at the old Nola Studios on Broadway and 52nd Street, and I walked in, and the whole band was there. The only person I knew was my brother Hank, on piano. Budd Johnson was in the band, and I think Buck Clayton, but I didn’t know them then. Benny wasn’t there. They got out the music for ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ and if there’s one number I never liked, that’s it. And anyway they wanted all this heavy 4/4 time on the bass drum. We started and I just didn’t belong in it. Nothing came out right. Then in the middle of the next number, the bass player had to leave, and I began noticing the guys in the band looking at their watches….”

July 9, 1955 Records with Miles Davis, whom he knows from the trumpeter’s 1954 stay-over in Detroit, for the album Blue Moods (Debut).

1955-1958 Finding his footing in New York City, performs with a number of leaders (Charles Mingus, Bud Powell, Harry “Sweets” Edison and J.J. Johnson) and records for a variety of labels, including Columbia (J.J. Johnson), Savoy (with Frank Wess, Pepper Adams, Red Rodney, Art Pepper) Prestige (Kenny Burrell, Mal Waldron, all-star sessions) Riverside (Bobby Jaspar, George Wallington, Pepper Adams) and Blue Note (Kenny Dorham, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell, Clifford Jordan, Curtis Fuller, Randy Weston, Bennie Green.) His still-developing, unorthodox approach to drums-loose, elliptical, suggesting rather than stating the standard 4/4 beat-leaves him scuffling at times. “My phone didn’t ring as often as it could have,” he later admits.

July 17, 1955 Makes his Newport Jazz Festival debut on a Sunday afternoon in the courtyard of opulent Belcourt mansion. Subs for Dannie Richmond in the Charles Mingus Sextet, alongside Art Farmer, Mal Waldron, John LaPorta, Teo Macero, Britt Woodman and Eddie Bert. The concert accompanies a panel discussion called “Jazz From the Inside Out.”

Dec. 24, 1956 Records with brother Thad for the album Mad Thad (Period). Jones will record with Thad and his brother Hank repeatedly over the next few years as their respective careers grow.

Aug. 15, 1957 Touring Europe for the first time, records Tommy Flanagan Trio Overseas (Prestige) in Stockholm, Sweden.

Nov. 3, 1957 Joins Sonny Rollins for an evening, yielding A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)-the first of many live records made in the Greenwich Village club.

Rollins weeds through a host of different groupings during his two-week engagement, finally settling on the piano-less trio format. Even then, he makes last-minute changes, replacing drummer Pete LaRoca and bassist Donald Bailey with Jones and bassist Wilbur Ware.

“I had played with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware before,” Rollins tells biographer Eric Nisenson decades later. “As I recall, I was trying to get them for the entire session but they did not arrive until after the matinee had ended.” He adds: “I do enjoy the challenge of a new drummer, the way he acts and speaks and his concept of rhythm and all of that. It proceeds into what I want to do and gives me new ideas.”

Jones’ polyrhythmic signature is still nascent on the date, but more than any previous recording, his slashing propulsion and powerfully raw energy raises Jones’ stature among jazz fans.

Late 1957 or early ’58 Fills in for Philly Joe Jones in the Miles Davis Sextet during a Philadelphia engagement at the Showboat, playing officially with John Coltrane for the first time. Jones recalls:

“I subbed for Philly Joe one week and they had to go to Philadelphia…. Red Garland was on piano. Paul Chambers was playing bass. Miles and I got arrested on the matinee…the cops came in and they thought I was Philly Joe and they swept us off to jail. But the fellow who owned that Blue Note in North Philly, his uncle was a judge, so it didn’t last very long.

“But that was a lot of fun…they were doing a lot of things-mainly [Miles] and Cannonball and Coltrane. The way [Coltrane] played was a complete-not opposite, but certainly a different level of artistry of what they were doing. He would express compositions in his own way of thinking…at that time it was completely novel.”

March 1958 Thad-Hank-Elvin Summit #1: In the first of just three instances of the siblings uniting in the studio, the Jones Brothers record Keepin’ Up With the Joneses (Metrojazz) with Leonard Feather producing, performing material by Thad or Isham Jones (no relation), including Thad’s “Three and One.”

Oct. 17, 1958 In one of his most challenging sessions to date, records the all-Monk album Reflections (New Jazz) with Steve Lacy.

Late summer, 1959 In what appears to be his first official gig as sideman with John Coltrane as leader, sits in on a Monday night gig at Birdland, with Wayne Shorter. Shorter reported to Julie Coryell: “Elvin Jones was on drums that night. It was historic, everybody realized it-we tore that place up. Ten years later…people were still talking about it.”

Feb. 1959 The Jazz Review publishes an analysis of Elvin Jones’ unique drumming style by tenor saxophonist Bobby Jaspar.

Dec. 10, 1959 Records All the Gin Is Gone (Delmark) with Jimmy Forrest. It’s a soulful, hard-bop session featuring Harold Mabern and the recording debut of Grant Green.


1960 Records with Julian Priester (Keep Swingin’, Riverside), Lionel Hampton (Silver Vibes, Columbia), Barry Harris (Preminado, Riverside), Gil Evans (Out of the Cool, Impulse) and Hank Jones (Songs From “Porgy & Bess”, Capitol).

April 25, 1960 Appears at Birdland for an explosive drum summit with Art Blakey, Charlie Persip and Philly Joe Jones. Released on Roulette as Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland.

April/May 1960 Serves time on Rikers Island for drug possession, missing the public debut of the John Coltrane Quartet at New York’s Jazz Gallery with Steve Kuhn on piano and Pete LaRoca on drums.

Late Sept. 1960 Travels to Denver to become a member of the John Coltrane Quartet (with bassist Steve Davis and pianist McCoy Tyner) remaining with Coltrane through 1965. Of that gig at Sonny’s Lounge, Tyner says: “That first night, Elvin said ‘Relax, I got it!’ And he did. I learned a lot about time with him because he had such an ability to flex the time, but always under control….”

Oct. 21, 24 & 26, 1960 Records with Coltrane Quartet for the first time in a three-session marathon week that eventually yields four classic albums for Atlantic-Coltrane Jazz, Coltrane’s Sound, Coltrane Plays the Blues and the hit-producing My Favorite Things.

1961 Records with Clifford Jordan (Story Tale, Jazzland), Freddie Hubbard (Ready for Freddie, Blue Note), Yusef Lateef (Into Something, Prestige), Lee Konitz (Motion, Verve) and Miles Davis (Sketches of Spain, Columbia).

Feb. 2, 1961 Records Together! (Atlantic) with Philly Joe Jones, the two drummers anchoring an ensemble consisting of Blue Mitchell, Hank Mobley, Curtis Fuller, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers.

Spring, 1961 Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” becomes a radio, retail and jukebox hit, propelling Jones’ sound to more ears than ever before. Coltrane’s success leads him to leave Atlantic for a lucrative deal with Impulse, which eventually introduces Jones to producer Bob Thiele.

May 23 & 25, 1961 Records with Coltrane in expanded lineups, first on Africa/Brass (Impulse, also on June 7) and then Ole (Atlantic).

July 11, 1961 Thad-Hank-Elvin Summit #2: Records Elvin! (Riverside), his debut album as a leader, with Frank Foster and Frank Wess. It’s the second time that all three Jones brothers recorded together. “That’s one of the things that I regret the most,” Hank says now. “We never got a chance to play together as much as I would have liked. I think some good music might have come out of that.”

Nov. 1-3, 1961 Coltrane Quartet records Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse). Of note is the inclusion of Eric Dolphy, and an impromptu blues later dubbed “Chasin’ the Trane” featuring Jones, Coltrane and Quartet newcomer, Jimmy Garrison.

1962 Through the year, records with tenor saxophonist Pony Poindexter (Pony’s Express, Epic), Miles Davis (Quiet Nights, Columbia), Hank Jones (Here’s Love, Argo) and Jimmy Woods (Conflict, Contemporary). On the personal side, he meets Shirley. They fall in love, soon marry and have a son, Nathan.

Jan. 10, 1962 Records Inception (Impulse) with McCoy Tyner, the pianist’s recording debut as leader.

April 11 & 12, June 19 & 20, 1962 Coltrane Quartet records Coltrane (Impulse).

Sept. 18, 1962 Records with Coltrane Quartet on Ballads and Impressions (Impulse).

Sept. 26, 1962 Records on Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Impulse), switching off with Sam Woodyard.

Nov.-Dec. 1962 Tours Europe with Coltrane Quartet.

1963 Through the year, records with Gil Evans (The Individualism of…, Verve), McCoy Tyner (Today and Tomorrow, Impulse) and Johnny Hartman (I Just Dropped By to Say Hello, Impulse).

March 7, 1963 Records on John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse).

Early spring, 1963 Is again incarcerated, and replaced by Roy Haynes in Coltrane Quartet. Misses session for Impressions (Impulse) and, on July 7, a Newport Jazz Festival gig that is recorded and released as Newport ’63 (Impulse).

Aug. 8, 1963 Records Illumination! (his first for Impulse) as Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet, with McCoy Tyner and newcomers Sonny Simmons, Prince Lasha and Charles Davis.

Oct. to Nov. 1963 Tours Europe with Coltrane Quartet.

Dec. 7, 1963 Appears with Coltrane quartet in taped performance for Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual series, later broadcast on San Francisco public television.

1964 A bumper year for Jones as a sideman. As Coltrane slows down his touring and session schedule, Jones appears on a staggering number of recordings, awe-inspiring in both quantity and timelessness:

? Joe Henderson, In ‘n Out and Inner Urge (Blue Note)

? Wayne Shorter, JuJu, Night Dreamer and Speak No Evil (Blue Note)

? Grant Green, Matador, Street of Dreams, Solid and Talkin’ About! (Blue Note)

? Larry Young, Into Somethin’ (Blue Note)

? Andrew Hill, Judgment! (Blue Note)

? Stanley Turrentine, Mr. Natural (Blue Note)

? J. J. Johnson, Proof Positive (Impulse)

? McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington (Impulse)

? Stan Getz and Bill Evans (Verve)

? Kenny Burrell, Guitar Forms (Verve)

? …and Bob Brookmeyer and Friends (Columbia), resulting from an unusual session that reunites Brookmeyer with Stan Getz and also features Herbie Hancock, Gary Burton and Ron Carter, with Tony Bennett singing a few numbers.

April 27 & June 1, 1964 Records with Coltrane Quartet for Crescent (Impulse).

Dec. 9 & 10, 1964 Records with Coltrane Quartet and expanded lineup on A Love Supreme (Impulse).

1965 Records with Larry Young (Unity, Verve), Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Rip, Rig and Panic, Limelight) and Quincy Jones (The Pawnbroker, Verve). In a reversal of ’64-and marking his final year with Coltrane-Jones records with the saxophonist in a wide range of situations: as a quartet and in various expanded lineups, live on the road and in a variety of studios.

Feb. 17 & 18, 1965 Records John Coltrane Quartet Plays (Impulse).

Feb. 23, 1965 Under his own name as leader, records Dear John C. (Impulse) with Charlie Mariano, Richard Davis and brother Hank.

Spring, 1965 With Jones’ blessing, a young drummer from Philadelphia, Rashied Ali, begins to sit in with Coltrane during his gigs at the Half Note.

June 10 & 16, 1965 Records with Coltrane on Transition and Kulu Se Mama (Impulse) in New Jersey and Los Angeles, respectively.

July 2, 1965 Performs and records with Coltrane Quartet at Newport, later released as New Thing at Newport (Impulse).

July 3, 1965 Performs in percussive combat at the Newport Jazz Festival, with Jo Jones, Art Blakey, Louie Bellson, Roy Haynes, and Buddy Rich, playing in various combinations, joined by George Coleman, Billy Taylor and others. Jones enters into a sport of friendly one-upsmanship, exchanging phrases with the other drummers. Jones responds to a dazzling closing statement by Rich with a spontaneous bear hug, lifting Rich off his feet.

March 18, 1965 Thad-Hank-Elvin Summit #3: Records own album And Then Again (Atlantic) with an ensemble arranged and conducted by Melba Liston. Among the musicians are Frank Wess and brothers Hank and Thad.

July-Aug. 1965 Tours with Coltrane Quartet in Europe. Of note: a special, full-suite performance of A Love Supreme in Antibes, France, on July 26.

Aug. 26, 1965 Coltrane Quartet records Sun Ship (Impulse).

Sept. 2, 1965 Coltrane Quartet records First Meditations (Impulse).

Sept.-Oct. 1965 During West Coast tour, records with Coltrane in various studios and live settings (Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco) for numerous albums Live in Seattle, Kulu Se Mama, Om and Infinity (all on Impulse).

Late 1965 Coltrane begins using a two-drum setup-Jones and Rashid Ali-on a regular basis. Jones later responds to the query “Do you think you [two] were compatible as drummers?” with “I think that I was. I don’t think he was. I think he had problems with confidence that centered on his ego. I had already been through that.” In 2003 Ali confesses as much: “At that time I was playing with John every night…so hey, ‘I’m the cat!'”

Nov. 23, 1965 Records with Coltrane and expanded lineup, including Rashied Ali, for Meditations (Impulse). Jones, increasingly disgruntled with Coltrane’s experimental momentum, remains with the saxophonist through the end of the year.

1966 Records with Sonny Rollins (East Broadway Rundown, Impulse), Earl “Fatha” Hines (Once Upon a Time, Impulse; Spontaneous Explorations, Contact) and Father Tom Vaughan (Jazz in Concert at the Village Gate, RCA).

March 24, 1966 Records his Midnight Walk (Atlantic) with Thad Jones, Hank Mobley, Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and others.

Spring-Fall 1966 Enters a period of hardship and depression, having left Coltrane at a time when jazz was suffering a general downswing in popularity and without a working band of his own. Jones moves with Shirley to San Francisco with their son, Nathan, but the marriage is falling apart.

Oct. 1966 Flies to Japan for a drum battle with Art Blakey, and meets his future wife, Keiko, a music fan he first met the previous year in New York City. After the tour, a legal misunderstanding with Japanese authorities leads to the threat of a permanent deportation order against Jones. Keiko decides to return to New York-the visa application process takes many months.

1967 Records with Lee Konitz (Duets, Milestone), McCoy Tyner (Real McCoy, Blue Note) and Jaki Byard (Sunshine of My Soul, Prestige).

July 17, 1967 John Coltrane dies in New York City.

Oct 1, 1967 Participates in all-star jam and recording for Solid State label at the Village Vanguard with Dizzy Gillespie, Pepper Adams, Ray Nance, Chick Corea, Richard Davis; later issued as a four-volume set Jazz for a Sunday Afternoon (Blue Note).

1968 Records with Pepper Adams (Encounter!, Prestige) and, in a grouping meant to parallel the Coltrane lineup, with Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman and Jimmy Garrison (Love Call and New York Is Now, Blue Note).

Also records the tunes “Treats Style” and “Stiffneck,” the latter a prototypical example of fusion, with Larry Coryell for Lady Coryell (Vanguard). On his own future recordings, Jones will explore various fusion approaches, welcoming electric guitarists into his band.

April 8, 1968 As his solo career gains momentum, records debut album as a Blue Note artist, the start of a five-year relationship. Puttin’ It Together features Joe Farrell and Jimmy Garrison. On Sept. 6, records Ultimate Elvin Jones (Blue Note) with same trio.

May 18, 1968 The New Yorker publishes Whitney Balliett’s “A Walk to the Park,” a celebration of Jones that adds to a resurgence of interest in the drummer.

June 19 & 20, 1968 Originally intended as a trio project with Larry Coryell, records Heavy Sounds (Impulse) with Richard Davis, Frank Foster and pianist Billy Green. Includes “Elvin’s Guitar Blues,” Jones’ sole recording on the instrument.

1969 Records with Phineas Newborn (Harlem Blues and Please Send Me Someone to Love, Contemporary); Barney Kessel (Feeling Free, Contemporary); Gil Evans (Blues in Orbit, Ampex) and Eddie Gale (Black Rhythm Happening, Blue Note).

March 14, 1969 As his pianoless trio expands to ever-larger ensembles, records Prime Element (Blue Note) with a septet featuring George Coleman, Joe Farrell, Lee Morgan, Wilbur Little, Candido Camero and Miovelito Valles.

Sept. 26, 1969 Records Poly-Currents (Blue Note) with George Coleman, Joe Farrell, Wilbur Little, Candido Camero, plus Pepper Adams and Fred Tompkins.


1970 During the year Jones records on a series of unusual projects, including McCoy Tyner’s Extensions (Blue Note), featuring Alice Coltrane; Allen Ginsberg’s poetry and music collaboration Songs of Innocence and Experience (released later by Rhino); and rock band Insect Trust’s Hoboken Saturday Night (Atco), featuring future New York Times music writer Robert Palmer on clarinet.

Also appears in Zachariah, a full-length film with an outlaw Western theme and a woozy psychedelic tinge. A product of the ultra-hip Firesign Theatre comedy troupe, the movie also features actor Dick Van Patton, country fiddler Doug Kershaw and rock bands Country Joe & the Fish and the James Gang. Jones plays the villainous Job Cain, who’s not only the fastest gunslinger in the West, but also the fastest drummer-which he displays in a 10-minute solo that’s the highlight of an otherwise forgettable flick. Zachariah stands today as a time capsule and an exercise in camp, but it did mark not only Jones’ big-screen debut but also one of the earliest film appearances of Don Johnson, later of Miami Vice fame.

Feb. 16, 1970 Marries Keiko.

July 17, 1970 Records Coalition (Blue Note) with George Coleman, Frank Foster, Wilbur Little and Candido Camero.

Feb. 12, 1971 Records Genesis (Blue Note) with one of his strongest lineups ever: Dave Liebman, Frank Foster, Joe Farrell and Gene Perla. Includes Jones’ composition “Three Card Molly.”

Sept. 12, 1971 Performs as part of a John Coltrane Memorial Concert in New York’s Town Hall with Chick Corea, Joe Farrell and Gene Perla. Recording released in ’76 on PM.

Nov. 1971 Records as sideman on Joe Farrell’s break-through album, Outback (CTI). As an indication of Jones’ return to a busy on-the-road schedule, this appears to be his lone sideman session of the year.

Dec. 16, 1971 Records Merry-Go-Round (Blue Note), aptly titled to reflect the shifting personnel: Dave Liebman, Joe Farrell, Steve Grossman, Pepper Adams, Chick Corea, Jan Hammer, Yoshiaki Masuo, Gene Perla and Don Alias.

1972 Begins giving drum lessons at Frank Ippolito’s clinic in Manhattan to help pay the bills. Two would-be students include Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson of the Allman Brothers. Jones recalls asking them, “‘What do you expect from me? You’re already a professional, I can’t teach you anything!’ They’re first class percussionists!” Trucks and Johanson are part of a generation of rock drummers influenced by Jones’ approach; others of note include Michael Shrieve of Santana, Mitch Mitchell of Jimi Hendrix Experience, John Densmore of the Doors, Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead and Ginger Baker of Cream.

1973 Performs in 14 South American countries on a six-week, government-sponsored tour, including a visit to Chile following the overthrow of Salvatore Allende. Returns to South America for a second USIA tour in 1975.

1974 Records as one of three drummers on Frank Foster’s Loud Minority (Mainstream).

Also records Mr. Thunder (EastWest) with Steve Grossman, Roland Prince, Milton Suggs, Luis Agudo and Sjunne Ferger.

1975 Following Blue Note’s demise, records Elvin Jones Is on the Mountain (PM) with fusion-leaning trio including Jan Hammer, Gene Perla.

Signed to Vanguard from ’75 to ’77, records New Agenda with newly expanded lineup: Kenny Barron, Roland Prince, Joe Farrell, Joe Foster, Steve Grossman, Gene Perla and Dave Williams.

Also records with McCoy Tyner (Trident, Milestone; includes the tune “Elvin (Sir) Jones”), Albert Mangelsdorff (The Wide Point, Pausa) and Stan Getz, Jimmie Rowles and Buster Williams (The Peacocks, Columbia). Getz, in album notes: “Everyone knows Elvin can move the earth, but who knows that Elvin can play brushes with such sensitivity and poetry?”

1976 Records on Pepper Adams’ The Trip and Phineas Newborn’s Back Home, both for Contemporary, and his own Main Force (Universe) with fusion-oriented lineup featuring Ryo Kawasaki, Al Dailey, Dave Williams, Dave Liebman, Joe Foster and Pat LaBarbera.

Nov. 18, 1976 Records Summit Meeting (Vanguard) with special guests Clark Terry, James Moody and Bunky Green. Also: Roland Prince, Al Dailey, Dave Williams and Angel Allende. Features Ellington’s tune “Jones.”

1977 Returning to past proclivity, records with Tommy Flanagan (Confirmation and Eclypso, Enja), Ray Brown (Something for Lester, Contemporary), Chico Freeman (Beyond the Rain, Contemporary), Hadley Caliman (Celebration, Catalyst) and Oregon (Together and Violin, Vanguard).

Records Time Capsule (Vanguard), with Bunky Green, George Coleman, Ryo Kawasaki, Junie Booth, Angel Allende and Kenny Barron. Special guests: Milt Hinton, Frank Wess and Frank Foster.

July 28-30, 1977 Records as part of landmark run by Art Pepper at Village Vanguard with George Cables and George Mraz; recordings later released on Contemporary and as 45-track box set by Fantasy.

Late 1977 Begins employing the name “Jazz Machine” for his working band and establishes a personal tradition of traveling to Japan to tour and rest at the end of every year.

1978 Records on Albert Mangelsdorff’s Jazz Tune, I Hope and The George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band (both MPS) and Fumio Karashima’s Moonflower (Trio).

Feb. 3-5, 1978 Records Remembrance (MPS) as Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, with Pat LaBarbera, Michael Stuart, Roland Prince and Andy McLoud.

April 8 & 9, 1978 Records Live in Japan 1978: Dear John C. (Trio/Evidence) with Frank Foster, Pat LaBarbera, Andy McCloud and Roland Prince. Includes “A Love Supreme.”

1979 Featured in half-hour documentary A Different Drummer on public television; later released on video (Rhapsody Films).

June 13, 14 & 20, 1979 Records Very Rare (Trio, later Evidence) with Art Pepper, Richard Davis and Roland Hanna.


Feb. 4, 1980 Records Tommy Flanagan’s Super-Session (Inner City) with Red Mitchell.

June 1980 Records Soul Train (Denon), a raucous date with Andrew White, Ari Brown, Marvin Horn and Andy McLoud.

Aug. 1980 Records Heart to Heart (Denon) with Tommy Flanagan and Richard Davis.

1981 Records on Pharoah Sanders’ Rejoice (Theresa/Evidence) with Art Davis, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Bonner, John Hicks, Steve Turre, Danny Moore, a harpist and singers.

Feb. 10, 1982 Records Earth Jones (Palo Alto) with Dave Liebman, Terumasa Hino, Kenny Kirkland and George Mraz.

Oct. 1982 Records another Coltrane tribute, Brother John (Palo Alto), with Pat LaBarbera, Kenny Kirkland and Reggie Workman.

Nov. 30 & Dec. 1, 1982 Records on Bennie Wallace’s Big Jim’s Tango (Enja).

1984 Records with Chico Freeman (Pied Piper, Black Hawk) and cuts “Evidence” with Steve Lacy for Hal Willner’s concept album That’s The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (A&M). Also a featured artist on the two-disc Playboy Jazz Festival (Elektra/Musician)

1986-88 Begins using and spotlighting a new generation of players in the Jazz Machine.

Records on Lew Soloff’s Yesterdays and But Beautiful (Projazz, 1986 and ’87), James Williams’ Magical Trio 2 (EmArcy, 1987), Wynton Marsalis’ Thick in the South: Soul Gestures in Southern Blue, V (Columbia, 1988) and Marcus Roberts’ debut as leader Truth Is Spoken Here (Novus, 1988)

June-May & Oct. 1987 Tours Japan and later Europe with Sonny Fortune, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard and others, performing A Love Supreme and other Coltrane music.

1989 Establishes International Elvin, a jazz club and clinic in Nagasaki; runs for a year.


1990 Records on Kenny Garrett’s African Exchange Student (Atlantic), John Hicks’ Power Trio (Novus) and David Murray’s Special Quartet (Columbia), with McCoy Tyner.

1991 Inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

Records on Javon Jackson’s debut as leader, Me and Mr. Jones (Criss Cross) and on Sonny Sharrock’s last session, Ask the Ages (Axiom), with Pharoah Sanders and Charnett Moffett.

June 23, 1991 After hiatus of several years, returns to releasing recordings with Elvin Jones Jazz Machine in Europe (Enja), with Sonny Fortune, Ravi Coltrane and Chip Jackson.

April 20 & 21, 1992 Records Youngblood (Enja) with Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman, Javon Jackson and George Mraz.

June 1992 Performs with Charles Lloyd and McCoy Tyner in tribute to John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival-New York.

Oct. 15 & 16, 1992 Records Going Home (Enja) with Willie Pickens, Nicholas Payton, Ravi Coltrane, Javon Jackson, Kent Jordan and Brad Jones.

Oct. 8 & 9, 1992 Records with Stephen Scott (Aminah’s Dream, Verve).

Dec. 3 & 4, 1992 Tours Japan with Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts and Reginald Veal, where they perform and record A Love Supreme and other Coltrane material; later released as Tribute to John Coltrane by Elvin Jones Special Quartet (Sony Japan). On Feb. 6, 1994, the quartet reunites at Lincoln Center to perform A Love Supreme for radio broadcast.

1993 Through the year, records with Robert Hurst III (One for Namesake, Columbia); Steve Grossman (Time to Smile, Dreyfus) and Bheki Mseleku (Timelessness, Verve).

Feb. 25 & 26, 1993 Records with Hank Jones in memory of their departed brother, Upon Reflection: The Music of Thad Jones (Verve).

Oct. 18 & 19, 1993 Records It Don’t Mean a Thing (Enja) with all-star lineup: Sonny Fortune, Nicholas Payton, Delfeayo Marsalis, Willie Pickens, Cecil McBee and Kevin Mahogany.

1994 Records with John McLaughlin (After the Rain, Verve) and Roseanna Vitro (Passion Dance, Telarc).

1995 Appears in the video Elvin Jones: Jazz Machine (V.I.E.W.) with Sonny Fortune, Ravi Coltrane, Willie Pickens and Chip Jackson; records Shirley Horn’s The Main Ingredient (Verve) in her home.

1996 Becomes a “Yamaha Drum Artist,” accepting sponsorship from the instrument manufacturer. Also, receives an honorary degree citation from the California Institute of the Arts.

1997 Records with James Williams (Awesome!, DIW) and Bheki Mseleku (Beauty of Sunrise, Verve).

1998 Voted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame.

Sept. 13, 1998 Becomes an inaugural recipient of a Zildjian-sponsored American Drummers Achievement Award, along with Max Roach, Roy Haynes and Louie Bellson, at the Berklee Performance Center. A scholarship in Jones’ name is established at the Berklee College of Music.

Sept. 16 & 17, 1998 Records with Joe Lovano on Trio Fascination: Edition One (Blue Note).

1999 Records with Michael Brecker (Time Is of the Essence, Verve), Steve Griggs (Jones for Elvin, Vols. 1 and 2), Gary LeMel (Moonlighting, Atlantic) and one track, “Stealing Babies,” with the Canadian alternative rock band Our Lady Peace (Happiness Is Not a Fish That You Catch, Sony).

May 1999 On the invitation of the French government, travels to Guinea and Senegal performing on a cultural tour with the Jazz Machine, and with local musicians as well.


2001 Receives an honorary doctorate of music from the Berklee College of Music.

July 3 & 4, 2001 Records on Stefano DiBattista’s self-titled debut (Blue Note).

Oct. 2, 2001 Records Bill Frisell/Dave Holland/Elvin Jones (Nonesuch).

Jan. 2003 Receives National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award.

June 17 & 18, 2003 Duets with Cecil Taylor one last time at the Blue Note.

May 12 & 13, 2002 Enters studio with brother Hank for the last time, with Richard Davis. The Great Jazz Trio’s Someday My Prince Will Come (Eighty-Eights), is released posthumously on Sept. 14, 2004.

Late 2003 With general health deteriorating, travels to Japan to consult medical specialists and tour with the Jazz Machine.

Jan. 2-6, 2004 Records last live recording at Pitt’s Inn, Tokyo, Japan.

April 21-26, 2004 His final public appearances, at Yoshi’s in Oakland, Calif., with the Jazz Machine. Half of the sets he plays attached to a respirator, Keiko a step behind him, at times his arms too weak to reach the ride cymbal. Rumors and unconfirmed reports of his demise circulate immediately after. Even to the end, Keiko says, “He wanted to be behind his kit. That’s where he was happiest.”

Originally Published