Elvin Jones, the intense powerhouse drummer in John Coltrane’s famed quartet of the 1960s and a leader in his own right, died Wednesday in Englewood, N.J. He was 76.
Jones was the first drummer to emerge after the bebop revolution of the 1940s and ’50s when Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Art Blakey defined modern jazz drumming. Jones was a polyrhythmic master, capable of keeping a steady beat and swirling improvisations around other players to the point where his work with Coltrane was described as four players having a conversation. His playing was consistently described as volcanic and his performances, even as a septuagenarian, never saw a loss of stamina or power. Recently, he had brought an oxygen tank onstage with him.
Born in Pontiac, Mich., Jones was the youngest of 10 children, two of which also became significant jazz musicians. Hank, a pianist, continues to perform; Thad, a cornetist and bandleader, died in 1986.
He taught himself to play drums at 13 and after a stint in the Army, he joined his brothers on the jazz scene in Detroit.
In 1956, he moved to New York after working with Charles Mingus and Bud Powell. Working, on occasion, with Miles Davis he came in contact with Coltrane, who promised to make Jones the drummer should he form a band.
Coltrane formed his quartet in 1960 with bassist Jimmy Garrison, pianist McCoy Tyner and Jones and within six years, through masterpieces such as “A Love Supreme,” they had changed the face of jazz as much as the Beatles affected pop music.
Coltrane brought in Rashied Ali in 1965 to go with a two-drummer lineup that bothered Jones; with a handful of discs as a leader recorded, he left to form his own band. Like many of his peers, he dabbled in fusion in the 1970s, but eventually dropped electronics to lead hard bop acts through the last 20 years of his life.