February 1 – When Ginger Baker Battled Elvin Jones

2/1/71: Ginger Baker vs. Elvin Jones

Nothing happenin…Cat’s got delusions of grandeur with no grounds. They should make him an astronaut and lose his ass! – Jazz great Elvin Jones on Ginger Baker

In an industry teeming with characters, Ginger Baker stood out. Whether it was his trademark red lion’s mane back in the day or his pissed off at the world countenance as seen in the fantastic 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, one could never rightly suggest he lacked self-confidence or balls or however you want to put it. Baker always considered himself to be a jazz drummer who played in rock bands – although he did consider Cream to be a jazz group – and he aimed to prove that as fact with his post-Blind Faith project Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which combined rock, western jazz, and Afro-jazz influences. Word of Baker’s jazz bravado seeped into the jazz scene.

When a journalist played the lengthy Blind Faith track Do What You Like for jazz great Elvin Jones, a veteran drummer who spent a career as side man for the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell, and perhaps most notably John Coltrane, Jones was not impressed and he made it known. As chatter between the two increased and a “battle” was on the horizon, Jones is alleged to have told an audience at one of his shows that “Baker had better put his drums where his mouth is.”

Ginger Baker vs Elvin Jones, Lyceum 1970 – SMART

The great drum-off took place at London’s Lyceum Theatre during the Air Force tour on this day 50 years ago, when Jones joined the ensemble on Aiko Biaye and a thirty-two minute Do What You Like (YouTube link above), trading drum licks with Baker. On the latter track, the soloing begins at roughly the nine-minute mark. When the drums ceased to pound, there were smiles and an embrace. Jazz journalists called it a Jones victory while rock scribes felt Baker more than held his own. Perhaps as much as anything, the “challenge” further cemented the legend of the jazz drummer in the wrong genre where, by the way, Baker was also the greatest – at least in his own mind.


Baker would later challenge another jazz great, Art Blakey, but late in life would scoff at the notion of the events being anything other than duets which took place in the spirit of mutual respect and admiration. Either way, the colliding of two worlds certainly spiced up the music scene.

Ginger Baker and Art Blakey in 1973:






8 thoughts on “February 1 – When Ginger Baker Battled Elvin Jones”

  1. Beware of Mr. Baker was a great documentary. He was a great drummer, no doubt. Who won the battle? I’d say Elvin Jones, not that it really matters–both were fantastic talents. Baker was an ass though. But he loved being one. As for his opinion of Keith Moon–he’s full of it. Moon was a fantastic drummer–a better rock drummer than Ginger Baker was, in my opinion. Yeah, there’s a big difference between rock drummers and jazz drummers–we all know that. Jazz drummers are the cream of the cream of the crop. But Moon was miles ahead of just about every rock drummer I can think of besides Clem Burke.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I tend to agree with the idea that all those guys were with they bands they were supposed to be with. Moon, Bonham, Baker, etc. wouldn’t have fit with The Beatles, for instance. Ringo and sometimes Paul were all they needed. They’re all so different.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This would have been fun to watch.
    Baker was great and fit Cream perfectly but yea he would not have fit The Who or Zeppelin…can you imagine him with the Beatles? Lennon and him together? Not a good mix.

    If I had a rock band I would want Moon…the excitement he produced from taking it to the edge and bringing it back was incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Intro, I had to jump ahead with my travels through your takes. This really grabbed my interest. Hats off. I’m working through Ellington’s sidemen and have a drummer coming up so this piece of yours fits the vibe.
    What a cool story. I know all the good rock drummers give the nod to the jazz guys who are numerous and fantastic. I love that quote by Jones. The jazz guys were always having battles, Sax (Hawkins, Young, Webster), piano etc. Drummers were famous for it (My neighbor just dropped me off and old vinyl of Gene Krupa/ Buddy Rick. So cool). Big bands, Ellington/Basie. What i get from this is Ginger wanted to get in on the fun with the legends. With your permission I’d like to send people your way when I post my next Duke thing. Good job fella. Hang a blue ribbon on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s a cool story I don’t recall I had heard before. While I think there’s no doubt Ginger Baker was one of the greatest drummers ever (and I say this as somebody who pays attention to drums but never learned how to play the instrument!), the man was a real nutcase in many ways. I think this becomes crystal-clear in the excellent documentary ‘Beware of Mr. Baker’.

    Liked by 1 person

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