I’m always intrigued yet sometimes puzzled by the waves of interest in jazz figures that I can discern in the searchers who find this blog.  I’m thrilled to know that somewhere, people yearn to know more about the obscure, “al drootin,” or “bernard addison.”

But often the curiosity (as tabulated by search engine visits) has been both odd and sad.  It feels as if unknown people want badly to put large figures into tiny labeled boxes.

I note with discomfort the morbidly voyeuristic fascination with Billie Holiday unrelated to her music, as documented in many inquiries about her last husband, Louis McKay, about heroin (some searchers have gotten the threads tangled and search for “ella fitzgerald heroin death”), as well as “billy holiday nude” and “how much did billie holiday weigh,” which I find both inexplicable and painful.

More recently, I’ve noted a consistent fascination with Jo Jones.  That in itself would cheer me up, but it seems to grow out of one legend connecting Jo — disdainful, furious — with a youthful and unprepared Charlie Parker.  I wrote about that incident in 2011 here.  (Do people still take Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, where this incident is a repeated narrative thread, as an accurate historical record?)

I saw and heard Jo Jones often in person between 1971 and 1982, and although he was not a predictable individual, what I remember about him is more than the potential for violence, as I have written here.

Jazz enthusiasts and makers of myth apparently need to simplify; they take pleasure in flattening out complex individuals into single iconic gestures, as if making plastic action figures out of them. I imagine a series of dolls sold at giant toy store.  Buy them.  Trade them.  Collect the set!  Here’s Billie Holiday with a needle in her arm or knocked to the ground by her man.  A plastic Louis Armstrong grins and sweats.  In another box, Miles Davis scorns the audience.  Count Basie strikes a single note.  Duke Ellington, in an electric-blue suit, woos a woman.

And now, Jo Jones imperiously humiliating Charlie Parker — complete with tiny gold cymbal flying through the air as if to decapitate the boy who has presumed to enter the world of men.

The Jo Jones I experienced was part mannered exhibitionist, a complete commedia dell’arte troupe in himself, grinning, gesticulating, insisting on playing eleven-minute solo spectacles, demanding our sustained attention.

And then there was the unpredictable deity who commanded the ocean, summoning cosmic rhythms.  His outward appearance — someone you could see on the subway, the compact balding man wearing short trousers that revealed white socks — was only a guise put on so that he could pass among mortals.

Hear him with his peers Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and that same Count, playing SHOE SHINE BOY:

The sounds Jo creates — I use the present tense intentionally — will outlast any concocted myths, searchers and search engines.

And if future cosmologists discover that the Basie rhythm section was and is really the music that animates the universe, it would explain the durability of this cosmos that some people have tried so hard to destroy.

May your happiness increase!

11 responses to “JO JONES, SPECIAL

  1. Danny Tobias

    This cymbal is metioned several times in the silly film, “Whiplash”. Maybe that’s what prompted the search?

  2. Detective Tobias, I promote you to Commander Tobias. You may take the rest of the month off.

  3. If it makes you feel any better, people searching for “Billie Holiday gardenias” are often directed to my blog. A much happier memory, perhaps not for her hair (initially), but for that iconic image, something as simple and beautiful as putting flowers in your hair.

  4. I do like that much better, and that they come from their search into your musical world is very happy.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for stating the case.

    Linda Yohn

    WEMU 50 Linda Yohn 89 1 WEMU Music Director 734-487-2229 Celebrating 50 years of community public radio with jazz, news, blues and NPR.

  6. ouch!!!



  7. Robert Stout

    Thank you for this one. Most people are much more complicated than the “legends/myths” created around them. Papa Jo Jones was definitely one of the most complex. I admit to being a fan who discovered Papa Jo via the same method as yours in your linked post though with out the personal meetings or concerts you mention.
    A couple years ago I read the book, “Rifftde”, gleaned from interviews Jo Jones had with Albert Murray. At first, a difficult read, gradually I came to understand and appreciate the underlying rhythm of Papa Jo’s speech as well as a similar rapidity/unpredictability of thought that demonstrated his complexity to me.
    My godfather, son, son in law and a neighbor were/are drummers of varied genres but would definitely agree that they value their set & set up time enough that to take the moment to take apart anything would not be worth said moment. Especially a cymbal! Maybe a stick…However, this meshes with your point as well.
    Ironically, I was visiting a local flea market with my son this past Sunday, and found a Jo Jones Pablo 1975 recording, “The Main Man” which I had never acquired. I have never been disappointed in his recordings. In excellent condition, I picked it up & delighted in not only the unpredictability of the tunes but the overall apparent simplicity of drive in the drumming, yet underlying complexity of direction. At first, I thought it uneven…Yet, it fascinated me. Interesting, as always. And I kept coming back to it this week. Per usual, better on second, third, fourth listening. And here, your post arrives after my week of listening!
    Thanks, again.

  8. Since “Bird” was made in ’88 and Jo safely dead Eastwood could not really ask him if this incident ever really happened before including it in his film. (With the exception of one scene it is IMHO an execrable film)

    Not that he ever would have, or that Jo — a notorious trickster — would have clearly denied or confirmed in any event.

    As far as I know Mr Jonathan Jones was always supportive of, as he called them, “the kiddies”, if approached with some humility and sincerity.

    Back in the days when Giants Walked the Earth and only select mortals had eyes to see.

  9. The last time I saw Jo Jones live was at the West End Cafe, at the end of January 1982. My friend Stu was with me.

  10. Jo was clearly a complex human being, and (I understand) became quite ‘difficult’ later in life. But yours is a shrewd, wise and perceptive assessment, Michael. You were privileged to have met (albeit briefly) one of the great drummers of all time.

  11. Ah, Jo Jones, the “man who drummed like the wind.” Hope I capture a bit of the true Papa Jo in my novel, GIRL SINGER, to be published in November (Leapfrog Press). Nat Hentoff, who knew Jo well, said to me: “The real Jo Jones is as alive in this novel as he was in life.” Sweet words to hear from a truly great man!

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