JO JONES CENTENNIAL FESTIVAL (Oct. 2 -8, 2011) on WKCR-FM

Jo Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Woode — London, 1964: CARAVAN

News from a great jazz radio station — WKCR-FM, emanating from Columbia University in New York City:

Tune in to for the Jo Jones Centennial from October 2nd at 2:00 p.m. to October 8th at 12:00 noon. Throughout the day, you’ll be able to hear presentations of the work of Papa Jo Jones by theme, with each show focusing on particular instrumentations, groupings, or musical qualities. Even if you’re an extreme Basie-ite, or know Jones better than most, you’re likely to hear something fresh this week: live performances and airchecks, music from the West End, recordings from Jones’ film appearances, and other stellar rarities. 

Jonathan “Jo” Jones (b. 10/7/11), nicknamed “Papa” to avoid confusion with jazz drummer Philly Joe Jones, stands as one of the most accomplished, influential, and innovative practitioners of his art in the history of jazz. Born in Chicago and raised in Alabama, Jones eventually made his way to Kansas City, Missouri, where he first recorded with Hunter’s Serenaders in 1931. His next recording, the Smith-Jones Inc. session in 1936, began his epochal work with William “Count” Basie, as well as a relationship with Lester “Pres” Young that would last into the ’50s. By the time Basie began recording under his own leadership, Jones was a part of a rhythm section that would redefine jazz and help usher in the pinnacle of the Swing Era. Jones played with Basie nearly continuously until 1944, when he was drafted for two years just at the end of the war. During this pre-war era he also worked with Teddy Wilson in the band for many of Billie Holiday’s greatest recordings. After his return, Jones continued to influence his peers, using his sound to balance Illinois Jacquet’s ferocious swing, Sonny Stitt’s ecstatic lines, and the melodies of singers like Jimmy Rushing and Joe Turner. Jones appeared as part of Jazz at the Philharmonic and at Newport as the guest of Basie and the Oscar Peterson Trio in ’57 and ’58, respectively. Eventually, he began recording as a leader with musicians like Ray and Tommy Bryant and old friends like Roy Eldridge. After his time with Basie, the great breadth of his work ensured that his sound persisted through the changes of bebop and beyond. Jones’ method of supporting swing, his talent for adding depth to the human voice, and his consistently impressive conception and execution live on. His sound provided the necessary backbone upon which so much great music was built. Join us in celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday, October 7th, 2011, with nearly a week of his music.

I spent many happy hours listening to and tape-recording the astonishing jazz festivals that WKCR-FM (89.9) had in years past . . . sometimes setting my alarm during the night to wake up at three-hour intervals to turn the tape reel over and go back to sleep, sometimes scheduling my daily activities around what would be broadcast that day.  Because of Phil Schaap, one of the station’s most diligent and enduring members, Jo Jones and WKCR have been linked for many years, with Jo speaking on-air to honor other jazz greats.  The station also broadcast live jazz from the West End Cafe (now no longer a music mecca) with Jo leading small groups that included Harold Ashby, Don Coates, John Ore, Sammy Price, Taft Jordan, Paul Quinichette, and others — even a teenaged Stanley Jordan.  Jo Jones deserves a week-long tribute of this depth and scope, and I’m only sorry that it had to wait for his centennial — after his death.  Listeners outside of the New York metropolitan area should visit WKCR’s online site — http://www.wkcr.org — where (through RealPlayer — the installation takes about six or seven minutes) the broadcasts can be heard without a radio, streaming.  I disposed of my reel-to-reel recorder years ago, but the good news is that RealPlayer entices me: click on a little red button, bottom left, and record the signal “to my library.”  I wonder how many external hard drives the centennial would fill up?  At least I could now get an unbroken night’s sleep.

2 responses to “JO JONES CENTENNIAL FESTIVAL (Oct. 2 -8, 2011) on WKCR-FM

  1. Does he EVER deserve a week-long tribute!!!

  2. I’m so happy Hal Smith is one responding to this genius percussionist… and learn what will be coming for us in October over WKCR airwaves. I pray that every young musician will listen and learn from this radio show experience.

    The video posted above: “Papa Jo”- Master of ALL the percussive ingredients / His personal sound, his way of tuning the drum kit, his imagination, his technique, his use of spatial tension (and) surprise (and) dynamics (and) shadings or color. When he played “Caravan” Jo Jones took you on the desert with him. You were moving under the hot African Sun, crossing hot sand, arriving at an oasis resting place for the night… and winding up the journey when he went back into that ferocious-all-mighty tempo. Jo was a storyteller.

    When I lived in the country as a teen, Mom (Florence) saw to it I got to some of the early 1950’s Eddie Condon Town Hall Concerts and I witnessed there, from the balcony, Jo Jones come out on stage (under a spotlight) all by himself — AND SOLO. No band to start him… no song… just percussion. HE WAS THE SONG! Dear god, the imagery burned into my brain and is still there. Was I blessed, or what?

    Later in my 30’s I saw him again way up in Meriden Ct. doing a Conn. Trad. Jazz Society sponsored concert where the rhythm section was Jo along with Claude Hopkins, and Johnny Williams- the front line was Doc Cheatham, Benny Morton and Toby Brown. Jo was in the driver’s seat from the beginning. My wife Patty and I had a table smack in front of the “r” section. The band was functioning at 212.

    From time to time I would see him, sit with him on a barstool at “Red” Balaban’s Eddie Condon’s, I don’t remember if he was drinking then, I don’t think so. Brick Fleagel was! We usually sat at the end of the bar to the right as you walked in. I was subbing there one evening for Connie Kay and he was kind enough to pay me a compliment. He didn’t have to so it meant a great deal to me.

    The last time I saw him was in Grand Central Station. I had just descended the Pan Am Building escalator and was heading across the main floor toward the center information
    booth “with the clock on top” — and here comes the genius Jo Jones heading straight for me. He didn’t look well, thin, a tad gaunt, in loose fitting clothes (Chaplin like). But when I gently took hold of his arm and said… “Jo Jones!”… Well, he lit up and gave me that million-dollar smile of his. I was blessed again. We chatted for brief moment then he disappeared into the crowd.

    Take a moment to watch the above video (again) concentrating on Jo’s eyes and mouth, all his facial expressions… the movement of his head… his swaying body… his graceful arms moving like the wings of a whooping crane… or the effortless leap of a gazelle… watch him breathe. He was a drummer from head to toe, wasn’t he?

    Thank you, Michael, for calling our attention to the up-coming Jo Jones / WKCR Centennial Tribute. I don’t know what I’d do without “JAZZ LIVES.”

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