Elvin Jones: Transcription, Analysis, and New Yorker Interview


A Snapshot of One of Drumming's Heaviest Figures

Table of Contents

Elvin Jones’ Weighty Legacy 

Elvin Jones was a trailblazer.  Coming to prominence during his stint with the John Coltrane Quartet, Jones always pursued a singular path of uniqueness as a drummer. His approach has long been viewed as revolutionary and he is one of the most influential drummers to have played the instrument.

Emphasis on Feeling and Phrasing

Elvin was known as a player who valued the musical phrase and as such, his ideas often crossed the bar line and avoided the “one.”  

In addition, he was arguably the first jazz drummer to deeply explore all three notes of the triplet and whose independence was developed to a never-before-seen level that allowed very intricate placements of all three triplet notes within his grooves.

It is my hope that this brief article will offer some insights into his playing and his personality. Here’s how…

Here’s What’s In This Article:

1) A transcription of his time-playing (from the Song “Digital Display”). 

2) A thoughtful and analytical thesis written by Canadian drummer Barry Elmes while he studied at the York University in Toronto. 

3) An interview with Elvin that appeared in The New Yorker Magazine in 1968.

1) “Digital Display” Transcription

Released in 1977, Elvin Jones’ “Time Capsule” album, on the Vanguard label, was a bit more fusion sounding than many of Elvin’s other recordings. It’s definitely a jazz album, though, and Elvin’s swinging ride cymbal is very much on display (pun intended) on the track “Digital Display.” 

The section of Elvin’s performance transcribed here is his playing during Kenny Barron’s Rhodes solo. Milt Hinton is on bass. 

Time playing transcriptions like this one can yield a lot of musical knowledge. In this case, we get to check out Elvin’s ride and comping patterns. I found the ride cymbal patterns very instructive. There are also some very nice little fills/turn-arounds. They are not particularly difficult to play, but they are very tasty. I am particularly fond of the patterns found in measures 32, 40, and beats 3 and 4 of measure 56.

To download a pdf of the transcription, click on the following link: Digital Display PDF

Also note that Elvin is playing the hi-hat on 2 and 4, but it is not written in the transcription. It is very difficult to hear whether Elvin is feathering or not, but I found that playing the transcription while feathering the bass drum added some needed weight to the playing, especially since the tempo is slow (122 bpm).

2) “Thesis” by Barry Elmes 

In his Masters Thesis published in 2005, Mr Elmes, a very accomplished Canadian drummer, offers a very detailed look at Jones’ playing.

The paper includes a great deal of insightful analysis of Elvin’s playing and also many pages of transcriptions.  There are more than 200 pages on Elvin Jones for you to dig into here. 

Here it is: Elvin Jones Thesis

3) Elvin Jones Interview in The New Yorker, 1968

A feature article about Elvin Jones appeared in the May 18th, 1968 printed edition of The New Yorker Magazine. Elvin is interviewed at length.

He talks casually about failing his audition for Benny Goodman, playing behind John Coltrane’s never-ending solos, why he quit Coltrane’s band and much much more. It’s so fascinating to get inside the head of this legend; I’m guessing you’ll enjoy it.

Read it here: Elvin Jones New Yorker Interview

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