elvin jones

Elvin Jones tribute preview: Straight from the heart

Veteran Portland drummer Alan Jones leads Portland Jazz Festival tribute to one of the Coltrane Quartet's other immortals


Editor’s note: This year’s Portland Jazz Festival is dedicated to the memory of the great saxophonist, improviser and composer John Coltrane, born 90 years ago. Two of this year’s concerts, at 7 and 930 pm February 19, focus on the drummer in Coltrane’s classic quartet, Elvin Jones. Led by the great Portland jazz drummer and teacher Alan Jones, the shows feature national jazz stars Azar Lawrence and Sonny Fortune and Portland bassist Jonathan Lakey. ArtsWatch asked one of Alan Jones’s students, percussionist Kaleb Davies, to talk to his teacher about Elvin Jones’s influence on jazz — and on both Alan and Kaleb.

Elvin Jones

Elvin Jones

When I first listened to the albums A Love Supreme and Sun Ship by the John Coltrane Quartet, I didn’t understand them. They just sounded like improvised music and stuff with the label “Jazz” stamped on it. As I was listening Sun Ship again recently, I sensed a flow of energy and emotion. It was more than four guys who had practiced their instruments a lot and learned a lot of licks. It was four musically sensitive men letting themselves transcend above the mere act of playing random licks that they’ve practiced for hours and letting the feeling of the music they were making choose the notes for them. I pictured them playing their instruments and what their faces looked like and how they were looking at each other and suddenly I got it! My body turned to jelly and this wave came over my body and I felt like I was in the same room as them, standing right in among the four of them. I could see the sweat drops flying off their faces and see their flexed muscles and the contorted faces as they were simply allowing these feelings to come straight out of their instruments without first stopping to reference the decision-making portion of the brain that chooses which notes would appropriately fit the situation.

The John Coltrane Quartet as a whole had more influence on me than just Elvin, but the quartet wouldn’t have been the same and wouldn’t have given me that same chill if Elvin wasn’t the drummer.

I want to have this feeling in my playing. I want to take his passion and learn how to apply it to every song I play in every musical situation I’m in. I want to practice my parts a lot harder and memorize them better, so that I too may be able to transcend regular note-playing and play like Elvin did: straight from the heart with no interaction with the brain. The practice room is where I’ll memorize my music and learn licks and hone my technique, and performances will be where I let my heart speak unfiltered.

Elvin changed the way I listen to music. I will now try to find the pure, gut-wrenching emotion in the music I listen to, no matter the style.  He changed my definition of good music. Before my definition was this: music played well and with intention. Now it includes pure expression of emotion.

This Friday February 19th, Alan Jones is leading Elvin Jones tribute concerts at Portland jazz club Jimmy Mak’s. He’s planning to play two tunes that Elvin wrote, an original tune from each member of the band, and pieces that Elvin has famously played on. We talked about those concerts and Elvin’s impact on Alan and on jazz.


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