Jo Jones

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Jo Jones

Jonathan David Samuel "Jo" Jones, (born October 7, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois; died September 3, 1985 in New York, New York) was a jazz drummer, most notably with Count Basie's "All-American Rhythm Section" in the 1930s and 40s.

Jones was born in Chicago, the son of electrician and boat-builder Samuel Jones and his wife Elizabeth. They moved around a lot chasing jobs while Jo was young until Samuel died from an on-the-job accident in Tuscaloosa in July 1922. By then, Jo, who had burned himself badly playing with fire, was a studious boy with a keen interest in music and show business, inspired by his father's comment that sports and entertainment might be the best careers for Black men to earn respect.

During his 16-month convalescence Jones was taken to see the Ringling Brothers Circus and was deeply affected by bass-drum player Emil Helmicke. His Aunt Mattie bought him a snare drum to practice on and he continued to play while a student at Tuggle Institute, Lincoln Junior High School and Alabama A&M. Along the way he picked up trumpet, saxophone, piano, tympani, and vibraphone as well as singing, dancing and acting. He became a protege of Wilson Driver, a drummer who played piano for silent films at the Famous Theater. In the summers he found jobs with traveling carnivals and shows. Driver got him a job with the variety troupe Butterbeans and Suzie at the Frolic Theater. Not long after that, though, Jones became a rising star in the jazz world and began playing in Omaha, Nebraska and Kansas City, Missouri. It was while there that he was invited to Topeka for a Valentine's Day gig with the Basie band in 1934.

Jo Jones with the Count Basie Orchestra

Jones was intimidated at first and thought of himself as a fill-in drummer, but ended up staying with the Basie band through its run at the Reno Club and ultimately for 14 seminal years, helping establish its signature softly-swinging, open sound. He popularized the constant use of the large high-hat to color the rhythm. Music producer and talent scout John Hammond suggested that Jones shorten his name from Jonathan to Jo during that first engagement, before the band moved to Chicago's Grand Terrace and from there to Roseland Ballroom in New York City, beginning with the Christmas Eve show in 1936.

Jones left the band to enlist in the Army during World War II. When he returned he became more independent, officially leaving the group in 1948. Nevertheless, he remained associated with the Basie band until the Count's death.

Jones appeared in several films including 1944's influential short Jammin' the Blues. In the 1950s he led recording groups for Vanguard and Everest Records. As he got older he became an elder figure to a new generation of jazz drummers, who called him Papa Jo.

Jones was inducted into the second class of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979. He was awarded an American Jazz Masters fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. He died in New York City later that same year.


  • Korall, Burt (2002) Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Swing Years. New York: Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0195157621

External links