Elvin Outlines his Soloing Thought Processes

SKF NOTE: It’s not uncommon, in drum forums, for a drummer to ask for help understanding Elvin Jones’s drumming. Count me among drummers who spent a long time listening and trying to “get” what Elvin was doing during his solos, intros, and trading fours and eights. I wrote about my “Elvin Years” in this blog post.

This afternoon, reading Rick Mattingly’s May 1992 Modern Drummer Elvin Jones interview, I spotted a couple of Elvin’s statements in which he explains his inner process while trading fours and playing drum solos.

The subject is Elvin’s playing on Sonnymoon for Two on Sonny Rollins’s 1957 A Night at the Village Vanguard album. Mattingly asks Elvin what he hears on the track.

Elvin said, “I hear myself trying to keep up with Sonny Rollins and Wilbur Ware. Sonny began to overlap his phrases when we started exchanging fours. So I decided to overlap with him. To me, it was like a great release….

“When exchanging fours or eights, I was always thinking in terms of musical phrasing as far as the composition was concerned. I think the phrasing should never be confined to a rigid pattern. Why shouldn’t it overlap? If everyone is paying attention, it shouldn’t make any difference. You can simply pick iup from where the other person left off, and he can come in where he wants in order to complete the continuity of the phrase. You can’t play that way all the time, it depends on the artist. Sometimes they require a rigid pattern, and if it’s required, that’s what you should do,” Elvin said.

Later on in the interview, Rick wonders if Elvin sings the melody of the composition to himself when he solos.

Elvin answers, “Well, I hear the tune. …I can hear it in my mind, and I try to follow it that way, so at least I know where I am at any point in the composition. Of course, this has to be reflected in what the solo is stating, whether it be realistic or abstract, in tempo or out of tempo. It doesn’t matter, as long as the time frame is accurate. Then one can pick up from any portion of the composition and reestablish the continuity.”

Good stuff. Thank you, Rick for asking the questions. Thank you Elvin, wherever you are, for your insightful answers.

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