"I am at a loss for words. This is an honor beyond my wild[est] dreams. I thank you for all those who nurtured and taught me."
The propulsive style of drummer Elvin Jones powered the John Coltrane Quartet during his six-year stint with the group and influenced countless percussionists that followed him over the past 40 years. As with fellow 2003 NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath, and a number of other jazz greats, Elvin Jones was the product of a musical family. His brothers include pianist Hank Jones and cornetist Thad Jones. The youngest of ten siblings, Jones began learning the drums during his middle school years, studying the styles of Chick Webb, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, and the beboppers that followed them, including Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Art Blakey.
After serving in the Army from 1946-49, he returned to Detroit, immersing himself in the fertile jazz scene there in the early 1950s, before heading to New York in 1955. After playing with Harry "Sweets" Edison, J.J. Johnson, and Sonny Rollins (at Rollins' famous Village Vanguard session), he joined the John Coltrane Quartet in 1960. His dynamic drumming pushed Coltrane's improvisations to new heights, and provided innovative accompaniment to the rest of the rhythm section: pianist McCoy Tyner and bassists Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman.
In 1965, Jones left the Coltrane group and formed his own band, a trio with Garrison and reed player Joe Farrell, beginning a series of recordings for the Blue Note label. Since that time, Jones' trios and his latter day bands, known as the Jazz Machine, welcomed numerous adventurous players. These ranged from Steve Grossman, Sonny Fortune, and Roland Prince to such younger players as Delfeayo Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, David Sanchez, and John Coltrane's son Ravi.
Jones frequently performed free for schools and other institutions, and at jazz clinics. Aside from music, he made his acting debut as Job Caine in the 1970 film Zachariah. He toured extensively with his group Jazz Machine and made later recordings with Cecil Taylor, Dewey Redman, Dave Holland, and Bill Frisell.
Hank Jones 1989
Hank Jones, a member of the famous jazz family that includes brothers cornetist Thad and drummer Elvin, served as a pianist in a vast array of settings, always lending a distinctive, swinging sensibility to the sessions. Although born in Mississippi, Jones grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, listening to such performers as Earl Hines, Fats Waller, and Art Tatum. A performer by the time he was 13, Jones played with territory bands that toured Michigan and Ohio. In one such band he met saxophonist Lucky Thompson, who got him a job in the Hot Lips Page band in 1944, prompting Jones' move to New York.
Once in New York, Jones became exposed to bebop, embracing the style in his playing and even recording with Charlie Parker. Meanwhile, he took jobs with such bandleaders as John Kirby, Coleman Hawkins, Andy Kirk, Billy Eckstine, and Howard McGhee. He toured with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1947-51. As a result, he became Ella Fitzgerald's pianist, touring with her from 1948-53. These experiences served to broaden his musical palette and sophistication.
A consummate freelancer, Jones found work with artists such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Milt Jackson, and Cannonball Adderley. The versatility Jones acquired through such affiliations served him well when he joined the staff of CBS as a studio musician,where he remained for 17 years. Although his studio work found him working on productions like The Ed Sullivan Show, Jones continued his touring and recording experiences. His broad range and ability to fit in different settings also landed him in Broadway stage bands, where he served as pianist and conductor for such shows as Ain't Misbehavin'.
In 1966, Jones was the first regular pianist in brother Thad's orchestra, co-led with Mel Lewis. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Jones continued to be much in demand for record dates and tours. Among his affiliations was the Great Jazz Trio, a cooperative unit with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, who were later supplanted by Buster Williams and Ben Riley. Jones has also experienced his share of piano duos, with the likes of Tommy Flanagan -- with whom he became acquainted when both were starting out in the Detroit area -- George Shearing, and John Lewis.
In 2008, Jones received the National Medal of Arts and the following year the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. As a leader and valued sideman, Jones can be found on thousands of recordings.
John Coltrane, The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions, Impulse!, 1961
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