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JAZZ NOTES

A Drummer Who Plays From the Heart

February 23, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Watching the exuberant drummer Elvin Jones work out vigorously behind his gold-colored drum kit, one sees a variety of facial expressions, from intense concentration to wide-eyed surprise and childlike glee. For the veteran trapsman, who still is best known for his association with John Coltrane's classic '60s quartet, playing the drums is his raison d'etre.

"That's all there is to it. I'm committed," he says.

With his ability to play a multitude of rhythms simultaneously, Jones could have been a natural in the worlds of rock and jazz/fusion. And he might have moved in that direction after the crossover notoriety he received when he did a "Battle of the Drums" with ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker in the late '60s. But his heart has been in mainstream, acoustic-based jazz, and since he left Coltrane, he's continued to lead small bands, usually quintets like the one that appears Wednesday through March 3 at the Jazz Bakery. Not major money, this mainstream jazz business, he says, but major satisfaction.

"Jazz music, you do this for love," Jones says.

The drummer, an amazingly youthful 68, seeks this sense of commitment in his sidemen, and he points to his trombonist, Delfeayo Marsalis, as an example.

"He's happy to be in the band. . . . He decided he wanted to play the trombone rather than be a free-lance recording engineer," says Jones, referring to Marsalis' other career as a producer of jazz albums. "In jazz, you can't be simply seeking self-gratification. . . . You have to be committed to what the essence of what this music is all about. The idea is to mature as a person, as a musician, hopefully become an artist, using this art form of jazz to attain these lofty goals."

The drum master, whose latest album is "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" on Enja Records, brings to the Bakery other players who are equally motivated, from pianist Victor Atkins to saxman Ari Brown. On bass will be Neal Caine.

The band will offer everything from originals to tunes by Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, but, in the end, it's the spirit of the performance, not who wrote the tune, that counts.

"If you play something with full sincerity, with all your heart and soul, then the music comes out swinging," he says. The Jones quintet will play two shows on Saturday at 8 and 10 p.m. and two shows on Sunday at 4 and 8 p.m. Information: (310) 271-9039.

Elias Returns: Pianist Eliane Elias will perform unaccompanied on Sunday at 5 p.m. at Borders Books and Music (1360 Westwood Blvd., Westwood), playing pieces from her Grammy-nominated "Solos and Duets" Blue Note album. The gratis performance is a makeup for Elias, who canceled her Jan. 19 appearance at Borders due to illness. Information: (310) 475-3444.

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