by carl wilson

A Love Too Supreme?


Second-hand, from the Yahoo latin-jazz group, comes a story about the great Elvin Jones, now 77 - who drummed with Coltrane, Miles, Roland Kirk, Bud Powell, Bill Evans and many more - that casts his current state in a pitiful and problematic light. Jones has been known to say that playing jazz is not only what he does, it's his function in life - so perhaps it's his own will that's pushing him on, and not (as it seems in the following narrative and, frankly, in other reports on Jones I've heard before) his manager-wife, Keiko. Caveat: This is from the Internet, after all. (Typos included.)

"Dr. Jazz" writes:
This might be beyond Latin Jazz, but this is the only egroup that I think might be interested in the description of my experience during a recent 4 days stay in the SF for a meeting. I was able to go to Yoshi's to see Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. I am not that familiar with his work, but knowing he was John Coltrane's drummer and more recently worked a lot with Candido with his poly-rhythm stuff I wanted to check him out.

[...] I was really eager to see Elvin Jones, waiting to see the Black Thunder pounding those drums. The scenario was perfect, no mikes over the drums so I thought, "wow, he can really pound those drums, eh?". Well, the band came out (2 saxes, pianist and bassist) and the place went crazy Elvin...and no Elvin...and no Elvin. After about 5 minutes of constant applause, Elvin Jones came out, couldn't walk and had to be helped by his wife and the band members. We were a group of physicians and nurses and we all looked at each other with the same expression in our faces: "He is dying of heart failure". His wife gave him the sticks and the band started playing a bebop-like tune.

It was quite an experience seeing him playing that night. The stick in his right hand (hitting the cymbal) kept slipping back and he needed to reposition it. He was certainly off, considering the timing of the tune. I couldn't see his left hand, but I could not hear any beats. Similarly with the hi-hat, I did not hear it all night long. As the performance continued, he looked more ill ... in fact, he closed his eyes once, and grabbed his stomach as if he was in pain, and everybody in my group got up because we thought that he was going to fall. He finally woke up and continued playing. He took one solo all night long, and basically what he did was to drop the sticks on the drum one at a time, at a very slow speed. He did not have the strength or energy to lift up the sticks from the drum fast enough. The band sounded great though. I guess he is like Art Blakey and surrounded himself with the best young players available. The bassist kept the rhythm going all night long, working super hard and the pianist would take very long solos, as both sax players.

Elvin could still swing at a very low speed, but was well complemented by the bassist and pianist. At the end of the performance, his wife whose name I couldn't catch, came out and said that Elvin Jones was very ill, dying from heart failure. She also said that he had not eaten anything that day but that she had fired his prior 3 physicians when they said that he was dying and decided to take care of things herself, booking him continuously until July (she also went on and on talking about medical insurances, doctors, etc) Elvin did not said a word all night long, and I actually wondered if was still coherent enough (which is a common, late event in patients with heart failure). He stayed there, sitting by his drums for about 20 minutes after the performance was over. We all gave him a standing ovation, I guess is the way of thanking him for what he has done. He did wave goodby as he was helped out of the stage. We sent him our cards as there are some options for patients with advanced heart failure (which we happen to especialize in our group).

I am not sure I can actually describe the feeling I had that night. The music was good, and seeing him on the drums made me happy and sad. Happy because I got to see him before the inevitable. Sad because somebody like him should be at home, spending the last few days of his life surrounded by family and friends. I know he also needs our support (income as his wife put it). I haven't heard anything about his health in the news, and patients with heart failure have good and bad days, but I can actually say that he is in bad shape, weakened by his illness (already cachectic). I will forever have the image of an elderly Elvin Jones playing the drums that night.

Also check out the strange Sambo-style graphic by Keiko on Jones' official website...

[Thanks on this entry to Carl Zimring and the fearandwhiskey list.]

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, April 29 at 06:22 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)



sheets of sound rest in peace

Posted by Craig Dunsmuir on May 21, 2004 12:22 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson