Guest Writings
30/05/04 Carlos Santana on Elvin Jones By George Varga


The SAN DIEGO Union-Tribune

May 30, 2004

A hippie at heart, Carlos Santana has long championed music as a potent force for creating positive vibrations that – as this veteran of the 1969 Woodstock festival puts it – “can change your molecular structure.”

But the legendary rocker sounded uncharacteristically angry during a discussion about the recent death of one of his musical heroes, jazz drum icon Elvin Jones, who died May 18 of heart failure.

Santana, who will be honored in Los Angeles as the 2004 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year on Aug. 30, is incensed that Jones' death elicited scant media coverage. He expressed his frustration during a recent interview from his San Rafael office.

“I'm really embarrassed for this nation, and for MTV and VH1 and Rolling Stone, because it was a very racist thing not to acknowledge this most important musician when he passed,” said Santana, whose 1999 album, “Supernatural,” won nine Grammys and has sold more than 25 million copies.

“For them to (play up) Ozzy Osbourne and other corny-ass white people, but not Elvin, is demeaning and I'm really embarrassed to live in this country.”

The mustachioed guitarist and bandleader first heard Jones in 1965 on the John Coltrane Quartet's epic album “A Love Supreme,” about a year after the teenaged Santana moved to San Francisco from Tijuana and became an American citizen. He was immediately struck by the force of the quartet's music and the impact of Jones' polyrhythmic drumming.

“When that intro comes in on 'A Love Supreme' it's like the gates of heaven opening,” Santana, 56, said. “In fact, when I die, if I don't hear 'A Love Supreme,' I'll turn back; I'll know I'm in the wrong place. For me, Elvin was Número Uno, forever, for all ages, for all existence. I miss him terribly; I've been playing his music nonstop since he died, especially 'Agenda' (from Jones' 1969 'Poly-Currents') with Joe Farrell (on sax). He was a supreme drummer who was doing things that were totally different than anyone else.

“When I hear Elvin's music I hear the pyramids, I hear African and pre-Columbian music, and I hear the future. Elvin is the beat of life itself, and his music transcends 'clever' or 'cute' or any superlatives. When he and Coltrane played, and everyone else in the quartet dropped out, that's what Jimi Hendrix would play if he was still alive. That's what John McLaughlin wants to play, and he's alive, because there is nothing more pure or vibrant than Coltrane and Elvin.”

It is because he holds Jones in such high esteem that Santana was angry at the absence of media tributes to the masterful drummer, who was 76 when he died and kept performing until just weeks before his death.

The reason for the slight, Santana believes, is a matter of racial and cultural prejudice.

“When Miles (Davis) died (in 1991), for four hours in France they stopped everything on TV and radio – all the regular programming – and just showed Miles for four hours, all through France,” Santana recalled. “Here in the U.S., it's embarrassing (how jazz is treated). People should be ashamed of themselves.”

MTV and VH1 are virtually jazz-free, and the music has historically been held in much higher esteem abroad than here, in its homeland.

But Santana believes exceptions should be made for musicians as notable as Jones, who Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron hailed as “a major force to be reckoned with” who could “wow the pants off a jazz fan or non-jazz fan” alike.

“If I would've been running MTV, I would've stopped all the corny stuff they show and shown one of Elvin's (drum) solos. Because he represents the highest level of creativity, like Duke Ellington,” Santana said.

“America is such an ignorant country. I understand that I'm hard on America, but if you look at all the (alarming) things on CNN, (you'll see) we need to grow up quickly. We need to crystallize our existence because we place economic values over spiritual ones.

“I'm hurt. And if I was a little hard or cruel with MTV and VH1, they deserve it. They need to stop showing what they are showing, and show real musicians. Why do they keep showing such stupidity? MTV needs to reassess its priorities.”

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