The day Elvin Jones fired up Milwaukee’s Lakefront Festival of Art in 1972


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Dave Liebman turns up the heat with a soprano sax solo with bassist Gene Perla and bandleader Elvin Jones accompanying. Saxman Steve Grossman lays out in the background. Photo by Kevin Lynch at the 1972 Lakefront Festival of Art. 

This blog is a birthday remembrance, honoring — one month late to the day — the monumental jazz drummer and innovator Elvin Jones, who was born on September 9, 1927 in Pontiac, MI, and died May 18, 2004. His passing prompted the original version of this appreciation, published in 2004 in The Capital Times Rhythm section, aptly enough. Now, the photo-essay aspect was also prompted by Racine trumpeter Jamie Breiwick’s assiduous recent efforts at building an archive of Milwaukee jazz history, here: – KL.

Elvin Jones has driven the jazz spirit in my mind and body since before I knew it. Besides countless jazz drummers, he’d influenced the double-drummer approach of The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, and the Coltranesque dramatic flow of the Butterfield Blues Band’s pioneering instrumental epic “East-West” of 1966, which he praised with a sage sense of the musical zeitgeist. 1

I had already caught the Coltrane bug, and Jones’ drumming coursed though my veins as I followed Trane’s incandescent, rhythmically refracted quest.

Jones’ innovative drumming style boiled all the implications of a time signature into rolling accents and a sliding pulse that pulled the listener in, and freed the music with a balance of sly sophistication and muscular resonance. As the most integral member of the classic John Coltrane Quartet, Jones went somewhat underappreciated by wide audiences after he left that group. This was partly because his approach was baffling to many even as you heard and felt its effectiveness and power to carry and lift the music.

Some drummers picked up on his triplet-figured rhythmic attack and started approximating his ambidextrous polyrhythms, which created a unique dynamic tension across the drum kit while requiring a loose-limbed bodily execution. (Jones succinctly describes his polyrhythms as “many rhythms, coordinated rhythms”) But few could capture the essence of his marvelous motion. That included monstrous press rolls to rival Art Blakey’s and a roaring sonic totality when swinging alongside a saxophonist as inspired as Trane in full locomotion.

At times you could hear Jones grunting and groaning as he played, and those bodily exhalations seemed integral to his sense of rhythmic dynamic and propulsion, like a tai chi martial artist. The analogy came to mind not because I know he had knowledge of, or had studied, that artful discipline. But I know he was married to a Japanese woman, Keiko Jones, who also wrote music, sometimes for her husband’s group.

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I recall hearing (and meeting Elvin and Keiko) in 1972 at Milwaukee’s Lakefront Festival of Art, which was the occasion of the photos I took, which you see on this blog. I was with one of my best friends, Frank Stemper, then a local jazz pianist who would soon become a composer, earning a PhD. in music (on which I collaborated with him on his final project) and becoming the long-time director of the University of Southern Illinois– Carbondale music department. Frank’s compositions have been performed worldwide, he has a sophisticated sense of musical time and was a big Buddy Rich fan. And yet, that day, intently watching and listening to Elvin, Frank finally exclaimed, “What is he doing?!” (More on that concert later.) 2

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Clockwise from top left: (1) Elvin Jones played so powerfully that he had to nail a board to the stage to keep his bass drum from moving. (2) He chats with a fan while pounding. (3, and above) His quartet essays an ensemble section and (4) the quartet is framed by the lovely setting of the 1972 Lakefront Festival of Art in Milwaukee’s Juneau Park, on Lake Michigan. 

Racine-born, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music-trained bassist Gerald Cannon,  who has played with many world-class jazz artists, commented “I was the last bassist to play with Elvin Jones. I was with the (Elvin Jones) Jazz Machine for about seven years, and I thought I knew how to play the bass before I played with Elvin. I was wrong. I learned more about dynamics, time, groove, and melody from Elvin than any band I had ever played with before him. I really learned to trust myself and my time with him. He was a great man. I miss him dearly. God Bless Elvin Jones.” 3

Indeed, Jones had evolved into a sui generis master musician with an ensemble concept which he developed in a series of superb albums on the Blue Note label. He showed that his post-Coltrane jazz would be diverse and subtle, but swinging and declamatory, and need not be deathly serious in manner.

Sadly a number of these albums remain un-reissued on CD. 4. So I don’t hesitate recommending wholeheartedly The Complete Elvin Jones Blue Note Sessions on the limited-edition label Mosaic Records ($128, mail order only at 203-327-7111 or, an investment that is rewarding, pleasurable and a deep slice of obscured music from modern jazz’s greatest drummer. A debilitating arm injury prompted me to listen to the whole 8-CD set recently, but each album is worth savoring.

Jones’ wizardly multi-directional motion filled the rhythmic role of piano accompaniment and his coloristic approach to drum tones and savvy bassist Jimmy Garrison and reed player Joe Farrell provided a remarkably rich trio sound in his early Blue Note sessions “Puttin’ It Together” and “The Ultimate.” Farrell, who died in 1986 at 49, was a resourceful master of saxes and flutes, and would not be fully appreciated until his later work with pianist Chick Corea.

Farrell was a consistently delightful and inventive musical thinker on these dates. Jones expanded his ensemble on the albums Coalition and Genesis and especially on one of my favorite jazz albums of the 1970s, Merry-Go-Round. The date included the masterful baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, ex-Basie tenor player Frank Foster and two young fiery Coltrane sax disciples, Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman. Merry-Go-Round had a carnivalesque variety and bristling joi de vivre, and among its highlights are Corea playing on the first recording of his small masterpiece of Latin jazz, “La Fiesta,” Liebman’s exultant hard swinger “Brite Piece” and bassist Gene Perla’s sassy strutter “’Round Town.”

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Clockwise from top left: (1) With Elvin Jones at the drums, Dave Liebman solos on tenor sax, (2) then soprano sax. (3) Fellow saxman Steve Grossman tears it up (with bassist Gene Perla driving the pulse), and (4) finally Elvin Jones takes a drum solo.

I got a live earful of this great material at that unforgettable Lakefront Festival of Art performance. I also recall, near the stage, my dad Norm Lynch, a big jazz buff, hoisting my young sister Anne up on his shoulders, so she could better see and hear the fiery and sometimes blistering music. That muscular double-sax quartet (with Liebman, Grossman and bassist Perla) would soon produce an explosive multi-disc set called Live at the Lighthouse which is  intact in the Mosaic collection as an edgy, thrilling exposition of the band’s creative power. Throughout this mighty box set, Jones’ flaming, indefatigable musicality illuminates lyrical chamber trios, Latin-style percussion jams, octets and expansive live sets.

Still, it’s worth remembering, Elvin Jones came of age with John Coltrane, so to fully understand, or at least experience, him one must hear that body of work, largely available on Atlantic and Impulse Records.

“With John, everything I had learned up to that point, it gave it significance,” Jones recalls of the classic John Coltrane Quartet, with pianist McCoy Tyner and bassist Garrison. 5  Having descended from the mountainous vistas of Coltrane’s spiritual expedition, Jones brought his own music somewhat more down to earth, wind and fire. And yet he could still take you on a journey that you can take nowhere else.


All photos by Kevin Lynch. This article was originally published in shorter form in The Capital Times in 2004.

NOTE: One of the first women to break into the upper ranks of modern jazz was Marian McPartland. The pianist and her trio (pictured below), opened for Elvin Jones that day in Milwaukee. McPartland would later go on to host a popular NPR jazz radio program where pianists would visit her live in the studio, discuss their music and play live solos and duets with Marian.

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  1. Elvin Jones — upon hearing Mike Bloomfield’s long and highly influential composition “East-West” on the Butterfield Blues album East-West — commented, in part: “Very well done. This has a nice feeling. I’d give that five stars.” – Down Beat Blindfold Test, Nov. 17, 1966.
  2. Perhaps the best elucidation of Jones and his innovative percussion approach is on the video documentary Elvin Jones: Different Drummer. It includes Jones’ own vivid and eloquent descriptions of his style and its effects, which was a multi-color-related concept, as he explains it. A technically superior document of Jones in extended performance is the DVD Elvin Jones: Jazz Machine from a 1991 concert.
  3. Gerald Cannon posted his remembrance of Jones on the comments section for the Different Drummer You Tube (see link in footnote 2).
  4. Check the online All Music Guide for comments on availability of individual albums:
  5. The Elvin Jones quotes in this article are from the documentary film Different Drummer.

“The Journey” — A Deathly Odyssey Teaches Trumpeter David Cooper about Music and Life

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David Cooper. Courtesy of Cooper’s blog

The David Cooper Quartet will perform Friday, October 9, 2015 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm., at The Wisconsin Union’s Frederic March Play Circle, 800 Langdon Street,
Madison. Admission is free.
Presented by the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium InDIGenous series.
For virtuoso trumpeter David Cooper, the horn of plenty almost ran dry. Death Valley dry.

You know the cliché about art imitating life. What’s more significant is how music can sometimes embody life and life transform music. That happened to Cooper in ways he never dreamed of. In fact, he’s turned medical horror — a nightmare that threatened his life — into deathless music. The story speaks as much of courage as creativity, not to mention the endurance of pain, the face of mortality. Cooper is 51 years old.

We’re talking a trumpeter given a diagnosis of throat cancer in May 2014, shortly before the recent jazz recording The Journey was planned. It’s a bit like a boxer going down to the mat and the ref’s counting you down. Imagine the tragic movie Million Dollar Baby. The analogy is not much of a stretch.

Not only a cancer diagnosis but a fractured jaw. And it sort of gets grisly.

“I had to have all four wisdom teeth taken out,” Cooper recounts. “The cancer was under the skin so they were afraid it could potentially kill those teeth. To keep them clean would be just a mess, so they wanted to get rid of (the teeth) pre-emptively.

“So they knocked me out and actually fractured my jaw accidentally, removing the teeth. I started the radiation daily and chemo for six-weeks. They said in the last three weeks it won’t be good and after that it’s the worst, how treatment progresses.

“By the recording, I was in the third week of treatment. So my wife Kelly drove me back and forth to the studio, I couldn’t drive. The chemo and radiation just knocks you out, so I was loopy.”

Cooper, who lives in Black Earth and is professor of music and chairman of the music department at the University Wisconsin-Platteville, took a planned road trip to an international trumpet convention in June. 1

“Nothing had started, but my mind was reeling with the news of the cancer,” he recounts, and admits little recollection of the conference. “But the road trip now provided the context. I had time to think and listen to many of my favorite recordings.”

“Almost all the tunes are standards and are things I’d always wanted to do,” Cooper continued. “I thought, I have a bucket list of things to do. So I could write new heads, so they’re mine. Then I saw road signs and thought oh, that might be an interesting name for a tune.”

As the concept arose and came together the titles list congealed with an undercurrent of threat or danger: “Merge Left,” “Stop,” “Detour Ahead,” “Speed Zone,” “Rough Road Ahead,” “Slippery When Wet,” etc.

They serve as material for meaty musical interpretation, and as an extended metaphor for Cooper facing the threat of cancer and treatments, the violence to his person and psyche.

“There was a lot of fear and concern in that whole process,” he admits. Considering that, what’s amazing is how damn good The Journey is.

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The cover photo of Dave Cooper for “The Journey.” Courtesy

And Cooper feels his playing was compromised by the illness. He had anticipated this quandary. So in the previous months he busted his tail getting himself into “the best shape of his life” for playing. If one compares The Journey to his recordings of his transcribed Bach unaccompanied cello suites, one may perceive less technical assurance or — in to his previous jazz recordings — bravura. Throat cancer wreaks havoc on a horn player’s embouchure, he said.

“If you get out of shape you need to continually rebuild the mouth muscles by exercising. But the pressure on the lower jaw when I played, that was painful. I didn’t know why at the time. It wasn’t diagnosed as a fracture until months later. I thought I had an infection in December, which really scared me. My face was so swollen they had to wait until it died down to search for the cancerous spot.”

Picture, say, a lopsided watermelon wilting in the heat and sliced open just enough to stick a trumpet in, like a knife.  And Dave’s a handsome fella.

His wife, the talented jazz singer Kelly DeHaven, deserved none of this. “Kelly went through every bit of this with me. Now she’s kind of exhausted and beat up. She needs the time to be nurtured. She was a rock through all of this. They did this carpet bombing: ‘Here are your drugs, hope they knock down the swelling.’ That’s when we all hit rock bottom. It did turn out to be an infection caused by tooth extraction which never healed well. “

Nevertheless, the opportunity had arisen, almost like a long-unrequited musical love affair too sweet for disease to deny, an Affair to Remember. You may hear a sense of mature wonder, a life faced and lived, and perhaps inevitable angst, which can take you a long way as a listener.

The strong material, mostly based on changes of classic tunes, sounds time-tested. The music resonates in my memory as a listener.

“It helped to provide a good structure and familiarity so the rest of the guys could come into the pieces much faster and be comfortable,” Cooper says unassumingly. He considers himself lucky in another way

“This band was basically my dream team, of the people I’ve played with in the last ten years.” That would be Madison pianist Johannes Wallman, Appleton bassist Mark Urness and Chicago drummer Ernie Adams.

But here’s where Cooper’s journey really does detour, through a virtual Death Valley. And the guy riding stagecoach was that nasty outlaw named Side Effects. And there’s no end in sight for that road, not yet.

“I’m still dealing with the radiation in my throat,” Cooper explains. “My whole throat and jaw area all contain salivary glands and are affected. Well, (the doctors) fried those and now I have constant dry mouth. The embouchure is really compromised without saliva. So I have to think in shorter phrases and always have a bottle of water by my side. That began during the session. It felt like the face wasn’t mine.”

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention, or the power of creation.

“Perhaps I didn’t have all my tools available to me, I had to be judicious about what I say, and how I say it, and be more succinct,” he says. “Now that I feel my playing is back to normal I think I’ve learned from that. I’m trying to say more with less.”

Cooper’s resourceful courage is almost palpable on The Journey. And the band swings, swerves and hums through it like a finely-tuned Maserati, masterfully hugging the curves of the tunes. Plus, you have Cooper taking “Merge Left” based on “Green Dolphin Street.” The opening salvo of C to Cm7 to D7 to D flat to C is among the standard repertoire’s most satisfying sequences of naturally transporting changes. Other tunes are based on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Terence Blanchard’s “Transform,” Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song,” among others. “In some ways it’s like my maiden voyage.”

The recording ends with a warm exhalation, Cooper’s solo rendition of Hoagie Carmichael’s “Stardust,” dedicated to his father. Tom Cooper, a trumpeter, taught young Dave basic fingering and other essential lessons of musicianship.

“Because of my dad, I wasn’t in just a sea of people,” Cooper recollects. “I was at the top of the class. So because of my dad I began practicing to stay ahead. That kick-started me.”
Here’s to David Cooper taking his sweet time with his bucket list, for a long, journey down the road before stardust befalls him for the last time.


1. Cooper has music degrees from three schools: a B.M. from Lawrence University, a M.M from Akron University and a D.M.A. from UW-Madison.


The Journey is available and and

This article was commissioned by the Madison Jazz Consortium and originally published in Jazz in Madison at