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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 Julian "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.

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