Tag Archives: Elaine Jones

GOIN’ TO TISHOMINGO: A FEW WORDS FOR CONNIE JONES

This morning, I learned through Ed Wise and Tim Laughlin that Connie Jones died in his sleep at home next to his beloved wife Elaine.  Although I hold to cherished ideas about death and transitions — that those who leave their earthly form behind never leave us utterly, that they have merely moved to another neighborhood — I find it hard to write that Connie has left us. He was a great poet without a manuscript, a great singer of immediate heartfelt songs even when he wasn’t singing.

I had the immense good fortune to see and video-record Connie in performance from 2011 to 2015: mostly at the San Diego Jazz Fest, but once at Sweet and Hot and once during the Steamboat Stomp, and I’ve posted as many of those performances as I could.

We didn’t converse much: I suspect he had some native reticence about people he didn’t know, and perhaps he had a perfectly natural desire to catch his breath between sets, ideally with a dish of ice cream.

His playing moved me tremendously.  I tried not to gush, although my restraint failed me once, memorably.  After a particularly affecting set, I came up to him and said, more or less, “Do you think of yourself as a religious man?” and he gave me the polite stare one gives people who have revealed themselves as completely unpredictable, and said, after a pause, “Yes, I do,” and I proceeded to say, quietly, “Well, I think your music is holy.”  Another long pause, and he thanked me.  And I thanked him.  Which is what I am doing in this post.

With all respects to the people who recorded him and played alongside him in various recording studios, I think the real Connie Jones only came through complete when he was caught live — one reason I am proud that I had the opportunity to catch him, as it were, on the wing.  He was the bravest of improvisers, reminding me at turns of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard, of Bobby Hackett — someone so sure of his melodies that he would close his eyes and walk steadily towards a possible precipice of music . . . but creating the solid ground of loving music as he went.

I expect to have more reason to celebrate and mourn Connie in the future, but I think this is one of the most quietly affecting vocal and instrumental performances I will ever hear or witness. See if you don’t agree: Connie, cornet and vocal; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 29, 2014:

He was so unaffected, so generous in what he gave us.  No one can take his place.

May your happiness increase!

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FOR CONNIE JONES

small purple flower

Only a few words here, because the subject is, as Kris Tokarski wrote, “bittersweet.”  One of my heroes — a player and singer of amazing grace, the cornetist and singer Connie Jones, has retired from performance due to ill health.

The trombonist Charlie Halloran wrote this morning on Facebook, “Pretty amazing playing alongside Connie Jones for his final performance.  He’s headed into an unbelievably well earned retirement.  But man, how am I going to hear those melodies without him just to my right?!  Even today he played at the highest level, world class.  Congrats Connie!”

That was Connie — among friends Tim Laughlin, Michael Pittsley, Chris Dawson, Katie Cavera, Marty Eggers, and Hal Smith — in November 2012 at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

Connie’s art comes from his heart, and it has touched ours.  His music has been quiet, gentle, searching — apparently simple melodic embellishment for those who aren’t listening closely, but truly a journey of small elegant surprises.  A Connie solo is like walking in a field and discovering a small purple blossom, fragrant, fragile.

His has never been a loud art.  It doesn’t abuse the air.  But it has been the most singular lesson: how to breathe warm air into metal and create lasting song. How to take familiar words and melody and infuse them with new yet lasting truth.

Another example.

When I was a semi-Californian, I had the privilege of seeing and hearing Connie in performance in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 (as well as in New Orleans at the Steamboat Stomp in 2015).  I came to him late in his career, and thus missed thousands of opportunities, but Connie never objected to being video-ed . . . so I have posted more than a hundred of his quiet poetic masterpieces on this blog and on YouTube.  (And more have not yet been seen.)  Most of those performances have had Connie at the side of Tim Laughlin, someone who completely understood Connie’s genius and took very good care of him.

I urge you to return to those performances and to Connie’s recordings with Tim, with Dick Sudhalter, and in other contexts.  Connie’s delicacy, his striving to find deep emotions in familiar material, has always shown him the most subtle of poets.

I wish him joy and health and ice cream in his retirement, alongside Elaine.  I send love and admiration and gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

A FRIEND OF OURS: JIM BRANSON REMEMBERS GEORGE FINOLA

Cornetist George FInola (1945-2000) didn’t live long enough, but was loved and respected by many.  (Hoagy Carmichael was a fan.) He spent his life in Chicago and New Orleans, playing gigs and advancing jazz scholarship — helping to establish the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

I had only known of George because of his 1965 debut recording — where he is paired with notable friends Paul Crawford, Raymond Burke, Armand Hug, Danny and Blue Lu Barker:

george finola lpand, just because they exist, here’s a Finola autograph:

george finola autograph

and a matchbook ad for a New Orleans gig:

george-finola-on-cornet-matchbook

My friend Harriet Choice, the esteemed jazz writer, had spoken to me of George — “a very dear person” — but I had never met anyone who had known him, not until September 2014.

Jim Branson and I later found out we had been at many of the same California jazz events (Jim and his wife live in Berkeley) but until Jim said something about George from the audience of the Allegheny Jazz Party, I had no idea of their close and long-term connection.  On my most recent visit to California, Jim very graciously told me stories of a precocious and singular friend.  And it seemed only appropriate to have George’s record playing in the background:

Later, Jim remembered this: When George taught himself to play cornet he learned the incorrect fingering, holding down the third valve instead of the first and second for certain notes and correcting by altering his lip pressure slightly.  This is the same mistake that Bix reputedly made when he taught himself to play.  Did George do it by mistake, or did he do it on purpose because he knew that Bix had done the same thing?

Randy Sandke had crossed paths with George as well:  George and I went to different high schools in Chicago but both grew up on the South Side, him in South Shore and me in Hyde Park. I met him at Bob Koester and Joe Siegel’s record shop, Seymour’s. I put on a record and he came over and said “is Bix on that?” After that we became friends and discovered we both played cornet. We met and jammed together and also exchanged reel-to-reel tapes of 78s we had that at that time had not been reissued. I saw him in New Orleans a few times after that. I always enjoyed his playing and he has a lot of friends from NO that I still see, so his name comes up in conversation. I was very sad to hear of his premature death. More people should have heard him play and known who he was.

Other people who have stories of George are New Orleanians Banu Gibson, David Boeddinghaus, and Connie and Elaine Jones . . . perhaps there will be more tales of this beautiful player and intriguing man — and I am sure that some JAZZ LIVES readers knew him too.

May your happiness increase!