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!