Philly Joe Jones established himself as the premier jazz drummer
of the mid to late 1950s. As a member of trumpeter Miles Daviss Classic Quintet, he beat a path out of bebop into what came to be known as hard-bop and post-bop. He combined the finesse of swing band drummers Cozy Cole and Sid Catlett with the modern innovations of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach. Joness playing reduced the history of jazz drumming into an all-embracing contemporary style that was at once thunderous, exhilarating, and impeccably musical. Joseph Rudolph Jones was born on July 15, 1923 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His maternal grandmother was a concert pianist, and encouraged her seven daughters to study music. Joness mother was therefore a proficient pianist and encouraged early musical training for her son. Joseph recalls an immediate connection to the drums, and was playing them by age nine.
As with many other top jazz drummers, Jones tap-danced as a child. This talent landed him an appearance on the Philadelphia radio program, The Kiddie Show. Jones kept up with tap for quite a while, often entertaining as a drummer and dancer as a youngster and into his early professional career.
Jones credits Philadelphia drummer James Coatsville Harris as his first mentor and teacher in his early teens, motivating Jones to study the masters of the late 1930s and early 1940s Baby Dodds, Chick Webb, Dave Tough, Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, and Max Roach. He then began playing at Philadelphia clubs in his teens, rather quickly earning a reputation as an up-and-coming star. Max Roach and Sid Catlett were two of Joness idols that soon took the time to impart some musical and personal advice to Jones, encouraging him to break into the New York scene.
While Jones eventually settled in New York, his musical career was postponed by a stint in the United States Army during World War II. Even though Jones was able to play with other military musicians and therefore left the army in good musical shape, he supplemented his relocation to New York in 1947 with a period of intense study with the legendary jazz drummer Cozy Cole in the late 1940s. According to Jones, Cole emphasized rudiments and chart reading, and Jones exited the lessons a far better all-around musician.
One of Joness first gigs upon arriving in New York was with Joe Morriss rhythm and blues group, which also featured saxophonist Johnny Griffin and bassist Percy Heath. In the early 1950s, along with a prestigious gig as the house drummer at Birdland in 1950, Jones joined Bull Moose Jacksons band, the Bearcats, which also featured Benny Golson and pianist/arranger Tadd Dameron. Jones did a lot more than drum in the Bearcats. According to Golson, Jones sang, played the piano and bass, did some tap dance routines. The guy was phenomenal. He wrote music and arranged stuff. And he was a truly terrific drummer.
Jones also served a brief yet contentious stint with Duke Ellington in 1952. Jones impressed both the bandleader and band members upon his audition, yet the relationship never culminated in a significant working relationship. While Jones usually states he chose to remain in New York to pursue his freelance gigging career rather than join Ellington full-time, there is evidence to suggest that an (arguably false) drug arrest caused Jones to miss gigs and be swiftly replaced.
Remaining in New York could not have worked out any better for Jones, however, as he joined forces with Miles Davis for sporadic gigs in 1953 and1954. At his first recording session with Davis on January 30, 1953, he performed in a group that consisted of Davis, Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker, backed by the rhythm section of Jones, Walter Bishop, Jr. and Percy Heath. The session can be heard on the Prestige compilation entitled Collectors Items.
After sharing Daviss gigs with Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, and Art Blakey from 1953 to 1954, Jones joined Miles full time in 1955 when the trumpeter assembled a steady group consisting of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Over the next two years, this group would record some of jazzs most revered recordings and forever be remembered as Miles Daviss Classic Quintet.
Much of Joness musical legacy was defined in these two years. His playing on the Classic Quintet recordings was as current as could be hard-hitting, polyrhythmic, form-conscious, and interactive. But where Elvin Jones and Tony Williams would soon take those characteristics and create completely new rhythmic styles with them, Philly Joe Jones maintained a traditional sound and approach while incorporating elements of modern jazz drumming. This modern vocabulary countered by an old-school sound quickly became the dominant hard-bop drumming sound, pioneered in large part by Philly Joe Jones, Billy Higgins, and Art Blakey.
Jones's final long-standing musical project was Dameronia, a group dedicated to enhancing the legacy of one of Joness earliest bandleaders and musical mentors, Tadd Dameron. Co-founded by Jones and trumpeter Don Sickler, the NEA-granted nonet premiered in 1981 and can be heard on To Tadd, With Love (1982) and Look, Stop and Listen (1983).
Philly Joe Jones passed away of a heart attack at his home in Philadelphia on August 30, 1985 at the age of 62. He was survived by his wife, Eloise, and his son, Christopher. His more than 500 recordings set the standard for modern, aggressive-yet-tasteful jazz drumming, and his style has been widely imitated since the 1950s. Whether in a bebop, hard-bop, or post-bop lineup, seeing Philly Joe Jones on any records personnel list single-handedly ensures its high quality interaction and deep, serious swing a testament to the drummers contribution to the history of jazz.***(jazz.com Eric Novod)
We had the honor of Having Philly Joe Jones in our KXLU studio in Los Angeles, CA recorded in 1985, This was one of the last interview he did before his death in 1986 My colleague Barry Thomas hosted this interview.
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