Jonathan "Jo" Jones

Man playing drums.

Herman Leonard Photography LLC


Jonathan "Jo" Jones' uncanny way around the drums, ability to truly swing a band without ever overpowering it, and slick, smiling sense of showmanship made him one of the most influential of the early swing band drummers. Jones made an art form of the use of brushes on the drum kit, with accents timely and thoroughly appropriate for whatever band with which he played. Jo Jones is credited with the transfer of the essential pulse of jazz music from the bass drum to the hi-hat cymbal, influencing such modern drummers as Max Roach. His technique was to leave the hi-hat cymbals just slightly apart, which produced a sound different from the relative staccato approach of his predecessors. Never one to engage in extended solos, his delight was in driving a band with his incomparable swing.

Jones grew up in Alabama, touring with various shows and carnivals as a tap dancer and instrumentalist while still in his teens. His first major jazz job came when he joined the territory band known as Walter Page's Blue Devils in Oklahoma City in the late 1920s. Jones stayed in the Midwest for quite some time, working with trumpeter Lloyd Hunter and moving to Kansas City in 1933.

In 1934 came the affiliation with which his artistry is forever identified, drumming with the Count Basie band, with which he worked on and off for more than 15 years. Jones' drumming was the final ingredient to what became known as the "All-American Rhythm Section." Besides Jones, this included guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Walter Page, and Basie on piano. They provided the irresistible pulse that drove the Count Basie band of the day to be called the swinging-est band in the land. Jones served two years in the Army from 1944- 46, then returned to the Basie band, where he remained a full-time member until 1948.

Thereafter, though frequently reuniting with Basie on special occasions, Jones became a freelance drummer. He played on tours with Jazz at the Philharmonic, and recorded with many of the jazz greats, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Art Tatum, and Benny Goodman. Jones was constantly in demand for a variety of all-star swing sessions and made numerous recordings as a highly valued sideman. In 1979, Jones was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame for his contributions to Alabama's musical heritage.

Selected Discography

Count Basie, The Original American Decca Recordings, MCA, 1937-39
The Essential Jo Jones, Vanguard, 1955
Jo Jones Trio, Fresh Sounds, 1959
Jo Jones Sextet, Fresh Sounds, 1960
The Main Man, Original Jazz Classics, 1976