Thinking about Elvin recently, I was reminded of his wit and storytelling. There are an abundance of Elvin stories, myths, etc. and if you had the pleasure of hanging out with him you understood why. Much like his drumming, his personality dominated the surroundings. I had the opportunity to be in his presence a number of times. He was a customer at Drummers World and would come in for repairs, purchases and just to say hello. I would see him perform in clubs and each encounter with him left an impression of his unique ability to communicate; personally and musically. As he said, “I was put on earth to play the drums.” This shaped who he was. What his life was about. His mission. The following are recollections of Elvinisms I remember:
We had a discussion about religion. I asked, “Are you religious?” His response, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” Coming from an intensely religious background he was very clear about his words and the difference in religion and spiritual beliefs. We talked about moving from the US to Europe. A number of people we knew moved from the US to another country because they thought things would be better, different. “No matter where you live, you take yourself, good or bad, with you.”
He could paraphrase a situation/event immediately into one sentence and it became a teaching. He once showed me a quarter note triplet pattern which I passed on to a student. Later, meeting Elvin in a club the student bragged to him about his technical ability to perform the pattern. Elvin looked at him and with a big grin, reacted, “But do you know where to play it?”
I never felt intimidated by him. And physically, he could appear very intimidating. I was showing him a new batch of cymbals that had arrived at the store and they were very responsive to his touch. I blurted out, “Man, you play loud!” He opened his eyes (wide) and responded, “I don’t play loud, I play dynamically.” And he did. His brush playing was soft and liquid. He was sensitive on ballads and ferocious on swinging tunes.
Charli Persip told me the two of them were in a back stage tent at a jazz festival with a lot of bands performing. Charli suggested checking out the bands playing before they were to go on. Elvin looked up and said, “Don’t listen to all those other drummers before you play. It will confuse your own playing when you perform.” Charli told me he never forgot that lesson. How often do we get caught up in someone else’s style and forget who we are?
Our influences are varied; parents, teachers, friends. All make an impression. I treasure them all and especially Elvin. His big smile and enormous spirit. Did I mention how he could play drums??
Last year I was invited to play a show by a bass player friend. I was asked to do a solo in the middle of one of the band leader’s songs. I messed around a bit at rehearsals but had nowhere to sit at a drum set and really figure one out. Right before the last rehearsal, I said to myself-go listen to some Elvin for inspiration. I did and I got kudos for the solo after the show. It wasn’t a copy of anything he did, just an inspiration. (It was his solo from the film Zachariah, an Electric Western). Thanks, Elvin! And Thanks Barry. I miss the shop.
Mike, thanks for sharing your experience. Elvin is always an inspiration. Hope all is well.
Missing Drummer´s World
I´m from Brazil, and i´d bought , and repaired many itens at Drummer´s world, on 80`s 90´s, I still have an 10″ Gretsch ton , adapted with a bracket that didn´t came with, all made in your shop. I remember Gustavo, the seller, from Brazil as well.. I confess, that NYC, lost in my point of view an special place with a unique atmosphere , that inspired me a lot at each , “passing by” Drummer´s World
Hey Claudio, We miss you also, my friend!
I am blessed by the time I got to be in his prescence both musically and personally.
This was a great article… thank you….
Your old friend,
Paulie from Frank’s
Barry, these are great reflections on the Great Man, Elvin–arguably, the most influential jazz drummer of all time, because his influence has lasted beyond his passing.
As anyone coming up in NY experienced, you could catch Elvin during one of his many club appearances here. I saw him play up to a dozen times and often said Hi to him. He was always accessible and very friendly, and had a soul-handshake that could crush your digits if you weren’t ready to say “hello” in response with your poor hand.
I was around 18 and caught Elvin at, I think, the Vanguard, with one of his great Jazz Machine groups. He passed by tables, as always greeting and crushing, er, shaking hands. He passed by my table, I was there just hanging by myself. I said, ‘hummanna hummana uhhh I love you!” … he gave me a gaze that could melt the spots off a hyena and a big warm smile and seriously, I could just feel love energy. That probably sounds corny or strange to someone who doesn’t know about Elvin. But that was my first encounter with him. He was a gift to humanity and to music. Elvin Forever.
This is great. Thanks, Barry!