From The May 2017 Issue Of DRUM! | By Donn Bennett

Elvin Jones was one of the most influential drummers of all time. He’s particularly well known for his incredible cymbal sounds.

From very early in his career, his cymbals of choice were K Zildjians. He played Ks on virtually every performance and every recording he ever made. Elvin had a tremendous ability to dig into a cymbal and release every bit of sound and nuance hidden deep in its grooves. He sometimes referred to this as finding “the devils dancing” in his cymbals.

Shortly after he passed in 2004, I acquired his entire drum collection. This historic cache included about 100 cymbals he’d used from the 1960s until the end of his career. The most prized of these cymbals were his early K Zildjians.

When word got around that I had Elvin’s old Ks, drummers from all over the world visited my shop to check them out. One of the most memorable of these visits was with Steve Jordan, who stopped by while he was on tour with John Mayer around 2006. Jordan is one of the most remarkable musicians of our time. He has amazing ears and hears everything on an extremely deep level. It was fascinating to witness him explore each of Elvin’s K Zildjians.

Elvin_Cymbal

Something really strange happened while Jordan was intensely putting these cymbals through their paces. We could feel something bouncing around the room. It was very powerful and we all were struck by it at the same time. We talked about this phenomenon later — none of us could explain it, but it was tangible. If there’s such thing as an “out of body experience,” then we all experienced one that day.

Most of these cymbals were 20″ rides that were very well worn. Elvin was a very powerful drummer and played his cymbals with extreme force. As a result, most of them had large cracks, usually along the groove lines on the shoulder of the cymbal. It was clear that Elvin would play a cymbal long after it began to crack — possibly out of necessity. Perhaps he didn’t have the money to replace it, or he couldn’t find a local supplier who carried the kind of cymbals he played while on the road.

My theory is that he would let his cymbals “evolve.” If a cymbal started to crack, it would change the character of its sound and introduce a whole new spectrum of sounds for him to discover and work with.

He would definitely play a cymbal as long as could find “the devils dancing” in them.

Donn Bennett is an eminent collector and dealer of rare and vintage drums. His collection is on display at Donn Bennett Drum Studio in Bellevue, Washington. donn@bennettdrums.com

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