A few months ago, I shared with you a lesson on Elvin Jones, entitled How To Comp On The Drums Like Elvin Jones, in which I discussed the comping side of the great late Elvin Jones’ playing.
If you have not checked it out, I recommend you do so before moving forward; they are highly related. Understanding Elvin’s comping style is going to make it easier for you to understand what his soloing is about.
As I said before in the previous lesson, Elvin Jones is one of the most innovative and influential drummers of the post-Bop era.
His work with The John Coltrane Quartet in the 60’s changed the jazz drumming world. His innovations transformed the way drummers approached the drum set and up to these days Elvin we can feel his influence in pretty much every jazz drummer playing in the scene.
In this lesson, we’ll be breaking down some Elvin’s phrasing and orchestration which made his sound so unique within the jazz drumming language.
I transcribed the trading-4s section from the track “Anthropology” from Elvin’s album “Dear John C.”
I find this solo simple enough to get your feet wet with Elvin’s style.
Nevertheless, it has many of the elements we want to learn from when studying Elvin’s playing.
It looks simple, but getting the right vibe and understanding the phrasing takes a while.
So let’s begin:
Here is the track, so you have an idea of how it sounds like.
There are four aspects of this solo that I would like to point out, which I feel are essential if we want to absorb and understand Elvin’s playing.
1. Rate Shift
Although I wouldn’t say Elvin was the first to do this, the way he introduced the shifts was unique.
Elvin would make the change in unexpected or uncommon places, like on beat 2 or beat 4 of the bar, giving the impression of playing odd phrases on top of the 4/4 bars.
In Fours #1, notice how he uses 8th notes triplets for most of the phrase, and suddenly in beat 2 of the last bar, he goes into a run of 16th notes.
That type of rate shift gives the impression of the phrasing speeding up, and also a feeling of flowing over the tempo.
If you analyze Elvin’s playing, you’ll notice he does this quite a lot, both comping and soloing.
Those shift rates from 8th note triplets to 16th notes is one of Elvin’s trademarks.
2. Polyrhythmic Phrasing
Another contribution from Elvin’s playing is his polyrhythmic phrasing.
Elvin would play odd meter phrases on top of the 4/4 bar.
Fours #2 and #3 are great examples. Notice the first two bars of Fours #2, Elvin plays this three-beat phrase that goes over the bar line. He plays the idea three times and changes it at beat two on bar three.
He does the same on Fours #3. Notice the 16th note idea. He starts the motif at beat four of bar number 2 and keeps playing it till the end of the trading.
Some of the most common of Elvin’s polyrhythmic ideas were 3/4 and 5/4 phrases on top of the 4/4 bar.
These first two soloing concepts or devices (Rate Shift and Polyrhythmic Phrasing) would give Elvin that floaty and loose feel.
When you listen to Elvin’s solo, you may think he’s playing free, (no tempo, no structures) but in reality, he’s keeping track of the song’s form.
3. Not Letting The Ride Go
This is another concept for which Elvin is known.
He would play intricate rhythmic patterns between his left hand and feet, keeping the jazz ride pattern all the way through.
Fours #2 is a fantastic example. He would play the polyrhythmic idea, and keep the ride happening, creating contrast by playing the two rhythmic layers, the ride cymbal in 4/4 and the motif in 3/4 underneath.
In the previous Elvin lesson, there are many exercises and ideas on how to develop this concept.
4. The Middle Triplet
Finally, here is another trademark from Elvin’s playing: the use of the second triplet or middle triplet.
Throughout Elvin’s playing, we can hear him stressing or even landing phrases on the second triplet. On examples 1 and 2, notice in the recording, how he stresses the second triplet on all of those ideas.
Also, check the third bar in example 4, he lands the phrase on the kick drum in the second triplet of beat four, giving a deceiving resolution.
The phrases feel like they’re left open up in the air, creating a lot of tension.
Elvin Jones was one of those drummers who brought many innovations to the drums, and his influence can not only be felt in jazz but in every musical genre.
Understanding these basic concepts in his playing will open a lot of doors for us to build upon.