The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIV, No. 7/8July, 2004

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The views expressed here do not express the views of Local 802. Please keep all letters to 300 words and send them to Allegro, c/o Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036, or e-mail Mikael Elsila, the editor, at


To the Editor:

(This letter refers to the life of Elvin Jones; see Requiem.)

Somewhere in the 1970’s I used to work out daily at the drumset playing along with loud recordings by the Krew Brothers, Dynatones, Versatones and the other great polka bands of the day as if I were Elvin Jones: lots of tripletized long rolls rumbling around the set, tripletized five-stroke rolls ending on cymbal crashes, and it worked! (For me, anyway.)

Even my simplified mimesis of Elvin’s one-man “African-drum-family-feel” connected me to the best polkas and obereks of Polonia, U.S.A.

That musicking experience, as much as any other, gave me the idea that there was something universal about the timing of 6/8 or 12/8 rhythms in the most danceable or grooving musics of the world, a 12/8 Path to rejoice in, mobilize, stay on, pray and proselytize for, politicize with, so as to attract people away from hubris, power-over, “progress,” science as technology, war, commodification, mediation, alienation — ALL the bad stuff we humans have inflicted on ourselves and the speciation these past few centuries.

I remember Elvin Jones carrying bassist Jimmy Garrison over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes on the way to the bandstand in McKee’s Lounge in Chicago. He was happily on his way to work-as-play, propelling the great quartet through time and space.

That’s how I’d like to be in the world, always bringing someone along to my work-as-play, and helping more and more children get on the 12/8 Path and stay there. Who knows, one of them might turn out to be someone like Elvin Jones.

–Charlie Keil