Requiem For A Titan
I spent a couple of weeks traveling/living in Europe. I
dont watch much television in general but while traveling, not at all.
While burning through a pile of books, I also write to friends. Long letters
which avoid the mundane The weather here is... Sometimes though I
miss the instant gratification of a phone call which can be a hassle when on
the road. Next best thing can be emails though.
I went into a cyber cafe to check my emails. I had spent the
entire day happily wearing out my shoes. After signing on I was surprised to
see that almost everyone I knew had sent me an email. A second later I realized
how odd that is. The first one I opened told me what all the others in various
May 19, 2004 Elvin Ray Jones died of heart failure. He was 76.
A lot of my heroes are jazz musicians and most of them are dead.
For reasons I cant articulate this passing still hit me hard. A lot of my
heroes are jazz musicians long gone before my birth. Echoes of another era.
Yes, Coltrane means a lot to me, but despite how much one can get from his
music, how much it makes you feel, to some extant he is frozen in time, the
music and its power a living thing but the body reduced to the image on
an album cover.
Elvin I had seen in concert, twice. The first time was one of
the greatest nights of my life as a music aficionado and in general. It was a
concert for his birthday, a double bill with McCoy Tyner big band. After two
smoking separate sets McCoy came out to join Elvin for Afro Blue. This was not
two old lions resting on their laurels giving an abbreviated performance which
would still be critic proof because of their musical pedigree. It managed to
have power but also the extra depth and finesse that can come only with years
of practicing their craft. An advantage of age and artistic evolution not every
jazz master necessarily lived to achieve.
The second time I saw Elvin he had been doing a week long stint
at a small but modern jazz club in California, the same club that for a decade
McCoy has done a two week residency at.
Much has been written about not just these last concerts of
Elvin's, but this last mini tour. That he shouldnt be doing this, shame
on his wife for allowing it etc. etc. I saw what would be Elvins last
appearance. He didnt look well. I had gotten there early to get one of
the little tables right by the stage. The entire band was on the micro stage.
Elvin came out assisted by his wife and connected to an oxygen tank. His
playing wasnt fantastic but he did not embarrass himself in anyway (think
final years of Miles)
These concerts were important for Elvin, not from an artistic
point of view but as a way to have a final exchange with the audience with whom
he had always had a symbiosis of both energy and inspiration. I sat so close I
could hear him sing along as he played. His eyes would go from table to table
resting several seconds on each face. Smiling when heads moved to the music.
This was important, a final gift, a way for us to thank Elvin for all the years
of great music and for a great but sick man to get one final infusion of
That night, having learned of his death, while making dinner for
some friends I wanted to put something on with Elvin doing his thing. I had
plenty of classic Coltrane quartet, but what is easy to forget was how many
great Blue Note sessions he had worked his magic on. The list is impressive in
both its diversity and scope of talent. Wayne Shorter, Larry Young, Grant
Green, Freddie Hubbard and many, many more.
Originally for this column I was going to do a biography and
career over view of Elvin. Much information is readily available about Elvin
both solo and his years in Coltranes classic Quartet. I decided to makes
this less an obituary and more my way of saying thank you. In truth he will
live on in his music as all the best artist always manage to.
His passing was not a great shock but still a tremendous loss.
A titan possessed of such grace and talent will not come our way
again. Pick up something with Elvin doing his circles of sound and know the
part of him we still need is here, always.
Maxwell Chandler June01,2004