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Keeping Up With The Joneses: The Jones Name In Jazz

Dan Bilawsky BY

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"What's in a name?"

This question, written by Shakespeare and spoken from the mouth of his Juliet, really touches on an important line of thought. Juliet continued and said, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." While she was dealing with the Montague/Capulet issue, she sought to downplay the importance of names and highlight the fact that they don't change the inherent beauty of a person.

While nobody can really argue the merits of this statement and, connecting this to music, it's easy to agree that what musicians play is more important than what we might call it, names do tend to matter and often carry weight. When perusing racks of CDs and records in stores, people are forced to look at the names or genre descriptors that have been thrust upon the music listening public in order to find the music they seek. Then we get to the names on the albums. If it's rock music, or some subsidiary of this umbrella genre, scant information is present on the outside packaging. The name of the group, some fancy artwork or pictures and a song list is par for the course. Classical music usually fares slightly better and lists the names of soloists, conductors and, occasionally, some other high profile musicians. It seems that jazz albums, very often, are the only place where you can find out the names of everybody who is playing by simply looking at the back cover.

Oftentimes, jazz fans look at these back covers to see if some of our favorite musicians are on the album. Sometimes unique groupings of musicians are sought out and other times people want to see familiar names—like scanning a Keith Jarrett Standards Trio album and breathing a collective sigh when Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette's names are still present. While it's likely possible to spend a lifetime listening to jazz and still be unfamiliar with some names, other names seem to pop up on every other album. People are often on quests to find albums with their favorite musicians, who are key figures from a certain era and who have been part of countless studio sessions, like Wynton Kelly or Billy Higgins, to name just two. Casual jazz fans, on the other hand, might only look for the marquee name on an album, like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker or Miles Davis, and don't bother looking much further into the personnel.

Still, other repeated name occurrences go beyond one mere individual—regardless of how prolific they might be—and are based partly on genetic wellsprings of musical ability and hard work...or sheer name coincidences that seem to pop up in jazz. The Dorsey brothers during the swing era, the Montgomery Brothers and the Heath brothers in the following generation, and the Cohen siblings who loom large on the modern jazz scene today are all prime examples of literal jazz families. On the coincidence front, we have some interesting name twins. Pianist Bill Evans and saxophonist Bill Evans (saxophone), who hold no relation to one another except for the fact that they both performed with Miles Davis in different eras, are a great example. Another would be the presence of two unrelated gentleman named Avishai Cohen, one being Avishai Cohenand Avishai Cohen - Trumpet a trumpet player, who are presently forging their own individual paths in this music. Interestingly enough, one name—above all others—seems to fit into all of these categories, dealing with famous jazz families, name twins and beyond, and that name is Jones.

"Keeping up with the Joneses" is a phrase that is often used to describe suburbanites who attempt to keep up with the affluent lifestyles of their neighbors in some way, shape or form. "Keeping up with the Joneses" in jazz is an altogether different and, in some ways, more difficult process. A simple search of this website's Musician Center results in over 100 musicians listed with the last name Jones—with most being unrelated to one another—and I would imagine that a few more have fallen through the cracks along the way. It seems that the name Jones has been associated with nearly every instrument, style and era of jazz. Looking back to the early years of Count Basie's band we have Papa Jo Jones cushioning the band with his impeccable swing feel and then, not to be too confusing, we have drummer Philly Joe Jones, who was best known for his work with Miles Davis. Then you have Sam Jones, famed bassist with Cannonball Adderley and Oscar Peterson, modern jazz/pop chanteuse Norah Jones, and trumpeter Jonah Jones, who thrived in the mid-twentieth century. This doesn't even scratch the surface of how many Jazz Joneses exist but I picked a few of my favorites for this edition of Old, New Borrowed And Blue.


While a long list of unrelated Jones-folk are part of jazz history, three siblings bearing that name have altered the way people think about jazz. Hank Jones, Thad Jones and Elvin Jones, three of seven children growing up in Detroit, each traveled a different path in this music and had a strong influence on the development of jazz in different ways. Elvin Jones was the youngest of these three siblings, participated in some key recordings in jazz history—like Sonny Rollins' A Night At The Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957)—and went on to alter the course of drumming and music through his role in John Coltrane's famed quartet.

From left: Hank Jones, Elvin Jones

Trumpeter Thad Jones—the middle sibling of these three—spent time in small and large group settings, but it's his big band work that garnered him his greatest acclaim. He was one of the key ingredients in Count Basie's "New Testament" Band in the mid-'50s and he went on to form the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, which brought many of his own classic compositions to life.

Hank Jones—the eldest of the three brothers—has had a career that covers more ground than virtually any other figure in jazz. Jones found work in territory bands in his early years, played with saxophone giants like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and Lester Young, and accompanied legendary vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald. He had stints with some of the major big band leaders, like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, was a staff musician at CBS and created some of the best piano trio work of the late twentieth century with his Great Jazz Trio. In the twenty-first century, Hank Jones forged different, but musically substantive, partnerships with the likes of Joe Lovano and Roberta Gambarini and continues to be a force in jazz.

While each of these brothers went in different directions in jazz, they did occasionally cross paths. Two examples of this would be the presence of all three brother on Elvin Jones' Elvin! (Riverside, 1962), or the pairing of Elvin and Hank on some of the later Great Jazz Trio recordings. While these situations provided a recorded family reunion of sorts, Leonard Feather produced an album that went one better. Keepin' Up With The Joneses (Polygram, 1958) took the Jones Brothers and added two unrelated Jones-people into the equation. Bassist Eddie Jones, who is largely remembered for his work with Count Basie's band, had worked with Thad in that situation and came onboard to round out the quartet for this album.

The song selection allowed for another opportunity to add a Jones in a different way and, in addition to the four of Thad's compositions, three compositions from Isham Jones were added. Isham Jones, who played tenor saxophone and some piano, was a big band leader in the 1920's and '30s, but he is best remembered as a composer. Three of his most enduring pieces—"It Had To Be You," "There Is No Greater Love" and "On The Alamo"—finish off the program and provide the final Jones connection to this project. With Feather's Jones-to-the-max affair, it's almost surprising that the photography, album layout and engineering weren't Jones related too...but I guess one can only go so far with a concept.


While many of the figures discussed above came up in earlier eras of jazz, the Jones name is still alive and well. Trumpeter Sean Jones has been a driving force on trumpet, whether performing as lead trumpeter in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra or working as a faculty member in the music department at Duquesne University, and he continues to develop his own voice. While the first album of this particular Jones was the post-bop leaning Eternal Journey (Mack Avenue, 2004), he has managed to touch on the blues, R&B-like grooves, gospel-leaning sounds, fusion and beautiful balladry along the way.

The Search Within (Mack Avenue, 2009), is a great example of Sean Jones' ability to cover a large expanse of stylistic ground while retaining a signature sound. Jones demonstrates his more touching playing on pieces like "The Ambitious Violet" and he shows a more determined and driving direction on "Transitions." Drummer Obed Calvaire's work lives up to the title of "The Storm" and vocalist Carolyn Perteete collaborates with Jones on the slowly waltzing "Letter of Resignation." A funky undercurrent runs through "Sunday Reflections" and jazz legend Frank Foster even contributed a tune—"Sean Jones Comes Down"—for the album. Sean Jones continues to carry on the Jones-in-jazz legacy and he is consistently one of the most engaging and artistically intriguing trumpet forces on the scene today.


When trying to come up with a Jones that started in jazz and ended up—borrowed in a way—in every other corner of the music world, you are left with only one person, and that is Quincy Jones. Several years ago I had picked up a greatest-hits type compilation—Compact Jazz: Quincy Jones (Polygram, 1989)—featuring recordings from his ABC/Mercury big band albums and I was floored by what I heard. I was sucked in by the fun gospel feel on Horace Silver's "The Preacher," the majestic beauty of "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set," the hip swing power on "Moanin,'" the explosive nature of "Air Mail Special" and the Peter Gunn-like setting of "St. Louis Blues." I knew of Quincy Jones' trumpet playing past, his role as an arranger and some of his connections to pop and R&B but I had no idea, at the time, how vital a musical force he had been as a big band leader/arranger/composer/conductor during this era. While some of his later large ensemble work had a more commercial style, this was straight-up jazz in the best way imaginable. I recently bit the bullet and bought The Quincy Jones ABC/Mercury Big Band Jazz Sessions (Mosaic, 2007) and I've been all smiles, ear-to-ear, while listening to these phenomenal recordings.

Quincy Jones was born in Chicago and his family relocated to Seattle when he was still in his youth. Jones developed into a fine trumpet player and joined Lionel Hampton's band in the early 1950s, playing in a section that included Clifford Brown. Eventually, Jones went on to work with Dizzy Gillespie and he developed his own band in the late-'50s. As an arranger, Jones wrote for Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and a host of other major figures. He spent time studying with composer Nadia Boulanger in Paris in 1957 and took on an important role as a vice president with the Mercury label.

Throughout his life, Jones has been a trailblazer in many different areas and his move into this role lead the way for other African-Americans to take on similar roles with other labels. While Quincy Jones continued to work in some jazz settings, including arranging for some of the famed Count Basie and Frank Sinatra collaborations, he also began composing for films and wrote memorable music for The Pawnbroker (1964), In The Heat Of The Night (1967) and many other motion pictures. Jones touched on influences like funk, fusion, pop and Brazilian music with his later big band recordings and moved into his role as a giant in the pop world with, among other projects, his collaborations with Michael Jackson and his work on "We Are The World." As if this wasn't enough, Jones even moved into production in other area of the entertainment industry, helping to give life to the The Color Purple (1985) on film and The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air on television. While all of these other areas might have "borrowed" Quincy Jones—or vice-versa—jazz can always stake claim to this musical genius who arranged some of the greatest music in this genre and created some of the most astounding big band records of the late 1950s.


While the word "Jones" probably pops up more than any other in this column, some people might have noted repeated mention of Count Basie's name. The great pianist was connected to many of the figures listed above and, long before he knew most of them, he had a different "Jones" connection through Bennie Moten. While Basie needs little introduction for big band buffs today, there was a time when he wasn't so well known and the nucleus of his first great-band-to-be came from pianist Bennie Moten's group. While Moten was a pianist himself, he liked what he heard when he encountered Basie and he ended up bringing him into his band. Moten, sadly, died in 1935—barely into his 40s—but he helped play an important role in bringing together a group of musicians that would, ultimately, play a major role in the history of jazz and big bands.

One of the songs that Moten's band recorded was "The Jones Law Blues." When listening to this track, one might notice that the soloists find the right blend between jazzy joy and bluesy sorrow and the simple riffs create a sense of drama melded with elegance that, while not usually associated with Basie's bands, does figure into some of Ellington's early, small group work of the late 30s. Leroy Berry's banjo, whether locking in the tempo and providing rhythmic emphasis or briefly soloing, is a key element of this song and the other soloists seem to be having a ball. From the dawn of the big bands through modern day music, the Jones name clearly knows no bounds. Please feel free to comment on this article with your own favorite Jones-related musician, song, story or connection.

Stay tuned for more Old, New, Borrowed and Blue.

Photo Credit

Hank and Elvin Jones, Page 2: John Abbott

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