Bar code: 8427328611343
James Henry Jones (1928-1982) was born in Memphis but spent his formative years in Chicago. “I always liked music,” he said. “Guess that was only natural as my father was a choir director and my mother played a little piano.”
His first attempt at creating music was at the age of 13 when he started playing the guitar. Later, Jimmy became interested in harmony and began experimenting at the family piano at the age of sixteen. During his formative years, Jimmy Jones developed a deep appreciation for two influential figures in jazz: Art Tatumand Duke Ellington. He had a natural ability to play the right chords and provide accompaniment for singers in the ensembles he worked with. Gradually, he developed the necessary technique and became a proficient pianist.
Jimmy Jones first gained attention in 1943 at Chicago’s Garrick, playing with Stuff Smith. His intense expression accompanied a technical skill at the piano that was bound to capture the listener's attention, whether alone or in combination with others. This talent proved to be a great asset when, later that year, he moved to New York and became exposed to the vibrant jazz scene on 52nd Street.
Primarily occupied by his celebrated and continuous work as an accompanist and arranger for Sarah Vaughan, as well as many other great voices, Jimmy Jones had limited opportunities throughout his career to showcase his remarkable abilities as a soloist. Thus, the recordings featured here serve as a testament to his uncanny ability to strike a delicate balance of restraint and richness, showcasing his nuanced playing and artistic mastery as a highly sensitive musician.
The genesis of his chordal style is the story of his musical beginnings, and it is through this journey that “The Splendid Mr. Jones” leaves an indeliblemark on the history of jazz and piano performance.
"Jimmy Jones (1918-1982) was a sophisticated and harmonically advanced pianist who emerged out of the swing era. He made his recording debut with violinist Stuff Smith (being a regular member of his trio during 1943-1945), played with Don Byas and Buck Clayton, and had a long association with Sarah Vaughan (1947-1958). Jones was a busy pianist and arranger for decades and appeared on many sessions including with Clayton, Vaughan, Harry Edison, Johnny Hodges, Illinois Jacquet, and Ben Webster.
Despite his talents, Jones preferred to be in the background and did not care much for taking solos. So while he appeared as a sideman as late as a 1976 record with guitarist Kenny Burrell, his last date as a leader was in 1954. In fact, with just a few exceptions (four improvisations for Session in 1944 that have never been reissued, private recordings of three songs with a trio that are also from 1944, and three combo sessions during 1946-47), all of his dates as a leader fit securely on the single CD titled The Splendid Mr. Jones – Trio & Solo.
Jimmy Jones is featured in a 1954 trio with bassist Joe Benjamin and drummer Roy Haynes, a 1952 combo with bassist Billy Hadnott and drummer J.C. Heard, playing a brief version of Duke Ellington’s “New World A-Comin’” and, from 1947, with bassist Al Hall, either Denzil Best or Bill Clarke on drums and (on one song apiece) guitarist Al Casey and singer Lynn Warren, in addition to ten unaccompanied piano solos.
This CD gives one a very rare opportunity to hear Jimmy Jones in the spotlight. The words that come to mind in hearing his playing are sophisticated (both in his chord voicings and his choice of material), tasteful, and lightly swinging. Bits of Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum can be heard in his 1947 recordings while his use of space in the 1954 session sometimes recalls Ahmad Jamal.
Some of the performances border on easy-listening but there is plenty of subtle creativity to be enjoyed along with occasional departures such as the uptempo blues “Cool In Cuba” where drummer Heard sounds a bit like a conga player.
Performing ballads, swing standards, and such unexpected material as Duke Ellington’s obscure “When I Walk With You,” four Noel Coward songs (including “Someday I’ll Find You” and “Mad About The Boy”), and one of the more haunting versions of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune,” Jimmy Jones plays his own brand of beautiful music throughout this well-conceived release. It is a pity that no one thought of persuading him to record more solo piano performances during his final 28 years."
Nights at the Turntable (October, 2023)
"Jimmy Jones (1918-1982) est une de ces multiples étoiles de la galaxie jazz sur lesquelles Fresh Sound braque son télescope avec sagacité, disque après disque. On ne peut que chaudement recommander l’écoute du «splendide» Jimmy Jones que vous avez forcément déjà croisé auprès d’autres grands du jazz. Il vaut le détour!"
© Jazz Hot 2023