Elvin Jones’ Cymbal Collection

Elvin Jones was one of the most influential, inspirational, and beloved jazz musicians of all time. Few artists have touched the world as deeply as he did. Though I only briefly met Elvin a couple times, both encounters were profound and started me on a path that continues to unfold today.

I’d heard stories about Elvin’s legendary drum collection for many years. It was like an urban myth. Many people had heard about a separate New York apartment where Elvin stored his drums, but very few had actually seen it. Supposedly, he had every piece of drum gear he’d ever owned in that space. I often wondered about what might be stored there, but I never dreamed that someday I would be standing right in the middle of it.

Shortly after Elvin passed in 2004, his longtime friend Gregg Keplinger called me from New York. Elvin’s wife, Keiko, had asked him to come to the city to help her with the sale of the collection. These drums held countless memories of Keiko’s life with the legendary drummer, so it was deeply important to her that the sale be handled respectfully and in a manner that would honor Elvin’s legacy. They soon realized this job was far bigger than they could handle themselves.

Gregg was a regular visitor to my shop, so he recommended me for the job, and Keiko agreed to have me take over the sale. I was deeply honored by the invitation and excited to take on the responsibility of caring for such a large and important collection. I caught the next flight from Seattle to New York, and by the following morning I was standing in Jones’ fabled downstairs apartment.

The space was a one-bedroom apartment that was very big by New York City standards. Practically every drum, cymbal, stick, and brush Elvin used over the previous five decades was piled from the floor to the ceiling. It was hot that day, and I felt like an archaeologist digging through a pharaoh’s tomb.

Every case we opened produced a treasure. There were drums from Gretsch, Tama, Camco, and Yamaha; boxes of used sticks, mallets, and brushes; trunks full of stage clothes; and over a hundred cymbals, including Elvin’s legendary old Turkish K Zildjians. At one point I had to pause and let it all sink in

The greatest treasure of all has been the relationships I’ve developed surrounding these drums. I’ve met countless Elvin fans, including many of the world’s most notable drummers, all eager to share their admiration for him and acquire a piece of his legacy. The most significant of these relationships is the friendship I developed with Keiko, who is an extremely powerful, sharp, and strong woman who dedicated her life to her husband and his music. Keiko was not only Elvin’s wife, but also his agent, manager, and drum tech. She meticulously managed every detail of her husband’s life, allowing him to focus entirely on playing music.

Elvin loved cymbals, and his cymbals always sounded amazing. He had a great ear for choosing instruments, and he knew how to pull the best sound from everything he played. Elvin used cymbals from a variety of makers, but he employed Zildjians for the majority of his career. He and Armand Zildjian were great friends, and Elvin loved to visit the company’s factory. Elvin would block out an entire day to pick out cymbals, but very little time was spent actually selecting cymbals. Elvin had an expert ear and could tell with a single stroke of his thumb if a cymbal resonated with him. The rest of the day was spent having drinks in the lounge with Armand. Nobody else was allowed into the room, but you could stand in the hall and hear them roaring with laughter.

Shown here is a variety of K Zildjian cymbals from Elvin’s precious collection.

old k

Several of Elvin’s original K Zildjians were cracked. He would play a cymbal for as long as he could. If it cracked, he would just adapt and explore the new sounds it provided.

Steve Jordan trying out
Elvin’s old Ks at my shop

Here’s a set of 1970s Ks, still in the original plastic, that were going to be used for a big band that Elvin started with Duke Ellington that never got off the ground.

This is a 23″ K that was cut down to 21″.

This is the first set of American-made Ks, from 1982. They were presented to Elvin by Armand in a custom leather bag with embossed gold lettering.

Zildjian and Yamaha threw a party in New York for Elvin’s seventy-fifth birthday. Armand Zildjian gave Elvin this 20″ K.