Jones, Jo(nathan) , noted swing-era drummer, long associated with Count Basie; b. Chicago, Oct. 7, 1911; d. N.Y., Sept. 3, 1985. Jones went to school in Ala., where he played trumpet, piano, and saxes from the age of 10. He left home to work in touring carnival shows, occasionally as a singer and dancer. He played drums in Ted Adams’s Band in the late 1920s, then joined Harold Jones’s Brownskin Syncopators in Lincoln, Nebr. (1931), where he remained working with various bands through 1933. He then moved to Kansas City, where he first worked with Count Basie in 1934, but did not become a permanent member of the band until early autumn of 1936, when the band was working at the Reno Club in Kansas City. (It was supposedly around this time that he threw his cymbal on the floor in disgust when Charlie Parker sat in at a jam session.) During early 1937, he was treated for syphilis but in those pre-penicillin times the treatment was not permanent. He remained with Count Basie until serving in the U.S. Army (October 1944); after his discharge, he worked mainly with Basie (April 1946-February 1948). He also did hundreds of freelance recordings with other leaders through his career. From the late 1940s, he primarily worked freelance. He made several tours with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (1947, 1951,1957, with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson), and worked with Illinois Jacquet (1948–50), Lester Young (1950), and the Joe Bushkin Quartet (1951–53). From the mid-1950s, he frequently led his own trio, while continuing to work with other leaders. In 1969 spent several months in Europe with Milt Buckner, then returned to N.Y. and resumed regular playing. He was featured at many jazz festivals during the 1970s. In later years, he was a strange figure with his raspy voice and strange intensity; perhaps the syphilis had progressed in his system. His final gig was at the Last Call Saloon, Providence, R.I., Nov. 10, 1984. He appeared in several films, including Jammiri the Blues (1944), Born to Swing (1973), and Last of the Blue Devils (1979). His son Jo is also a drummer.
Jones’s swing attack on the ride cymbal was so powerful that one simply couldn’t keep still. He was inventive, opening and closing his high-hat in unexpected places, not just on the second and fourth beats (hear Basie, ’Time Out”). He generally accompanied trumpeters with lots of snare accents, while Lester Young got a swooshy ride cymbal (hear Basie, “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” “After Theatre Jump”).
Jo Jones Trio (1950); Jo Jones Special (1955); Jo Jones Plus Two (1959); Jo Jones Trio (1959); Jo Jones Sextet (1960); Percussion and Bass (1960); Vamp Till Ready (1960); Drums (1973); Main Man (1976); Our Man Papa Jo! (1977).
—John Chilton, Who‘s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter