Joseph Rudolph “Philly Joe” Jones (drummer) was born on July 15, 1923 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia and passed away on August 30, 1985 in Philadelphia at the age of 62.
His maternal grandmother was a concert pianist, and encouraged her seven daughters to study music. Jones’s mother was therefore a proficient pianist and encouraged early musical training for her son. Joseph recalls an immediate connection to the drums, and was playing them by age nine.
As with many other top jazz drummers, Jones tap-danced as a child. This talent landed him an appearance on the Philadelphia radio program, The Kiddie Show. Jones kept up with tap for quite a while, often entertaining as a drummer and dancer as a youngster and into his early professional career.
Jones’s knack for entertaining developed early and never quite faded, quickly earning him the reputation of a rambunctious, fun-loving jokester. While the overwhelming majority of musicians and friends testify that Jones was one of their favorite people to be around, it is also well-known that his affable personality combined with his ongoing struggle with a serious drug addiction sparked more than a few volatile musical relationships as his career unfolded.
Jones credits Philadelphia drummer James Coatsville Harris as his first mentor and teacher in his early teens, motivating Jones to study the masters of the late 1930s and early 1940s Baby Dodds, Chick Webb, Dave Tough, Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, and Max Roach. He then began playing at Philadelphia clubs in his teens, rather quickly earning a reputation as an up-and-coming star. Max Roach and Sid Catlett were two of Jones’s idols that soon took the time to impart some musical and personal advice to Jones, encouraging him to break into the New York scene.
While Jones eventually settled in New York, his musical career was postponed by a stint in the United States Army during World War II. Even though Jones was able to play with other military musicians and therefore left the army in good musical shape, he supplemented his relocation to New York in 1947 with a period of intense study with the legendary jazz drummer Cozy Cole in the late 1940s. According to Jones, Cole emphasized rudiments and chart reading, and Jones exited the lessons a far better all-around musician.
One of Jones’s first gigs upon arriving in New York was with Joe Morris’s rhythm and blues group, which also featured saxophonist Johnny Griffin and bassist Percy Heath. In the early 1950s, along with a prestigious gig as the house drummer at Birdland in 1950, Jones joined Bull Moose Jackson’s band, the Bearcats, which also featured Benny Golson and pianist/arranger Tadd Dameron. Jones did a lot more than drum in the Bearcats. According to Golson, Jones sang, played the piano and bass, did some tap dance routines. The guy was phenomenal. He wrote music and arranged stuff. And he was a truly terrific drummer.
After playing together as members of the Bearcats, Tadd Dameron invited Jones into his band from approximately 1951-1953, and in doing so propelled Jones’s career into its next phase. As evidenced on Study on Dameronia, Dameron’s group featured the first-rate lineup of tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, and trumpet luminary Clifford Brown. While Jones is not quite as assertive as he would soon become, his playing throughout this recording reveals the ease in overall execution and his propulsive, polyrhythmic ideas amidst a classic, swing-era ride beat.
In 1952 and 1953, Jones performed with pianist/fellow-Joe Morris-alumnus Elmo Hope, and clarinetist Tony Scott, who is credited with forever attaching the Philly onto Jones’s name in order to distinguish him from Papa Jo Jones, the pioneering drummer of the Swing Era.
Jones also served a brief yet contentious stint with Duke Ellington in 1952. Jones impressed both the bandleader and band members upon his audition, yet the relationship never culminated in a significant working relationship. While Jones usually states he chose to remain in New York to pursue his freelance gigging career rather than join Ellington full-time, there is evidence to suggest that an (arguably false) drug arrest caused Jones to miss gigs and be swiftly replaced.
Remaining in New York could not have worked out any better for Jones, however, as he joined forces with Miles Davis for sporadic gigs in 1953 and1954. At his first recording session with Davis on January 30, 1953, he performed in a group that consisted of Davis, Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker, backed by the rhythm section of Jones, Walter Bishop, Jr. and Percy Heath. The session can be heard on the Prestige compilation entitled Collector’s Items.
After sharing Davis’s gigs with Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, and Art Blakey from 1953 to 1954, Jones joined Miles full time in 1955 when the trumpeter assembled a steady group consisting of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Over the next two years, this group would record some of jazz’s most revered recordings and forever be remembered as Miles Davis’s Classic Quintet.
Much of Jones’s musical legacy was defined in these two years. His playing on the Classic Quintet recordings was as current as could be hard-hitting, polyrhythmic, form-conscious, and interactive. But where Elvin Jones and Tony Williams would soon take those characteristics and create completely new rhythmic styles with them, Philly Joe Jones maintained a traditional sound and approach while incorporating elements of modern jazz drumming. This modern vocabulary countered by an old-school sound quickly became the dominant hard-bop drumming sound, pioneered in large part by Philly Joe Jones, Billy Higgins, and Art Blakey.
Some highlights from the classic quintet period from 1955 to 1957 include Round About Midnight, which features Ah-Leu-Chah, Workin with the Miles Davis Quintet, Cookin with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin with the Miles Davis Quintet,and Relaxin with the Miles Davis Quintet, which features Oleo.”
By 1957, Jones’s personal unpredictability, combined with the somewhat strained musical relationship between Davis and Coltrane, essentially ended the run of the Classic Quintet. In February 1958, however, the group entered the studio for their last great album, Milestones, supplemented by Julian Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone. The title track, Milestones, features a classic, Philly Joe Jones rim-click groove. A few months later in July of 1958, Jones participated in the Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration, Porgy and Bess, which included the drum feature, Gone.” Aside from a brief reunion on 1961′s Someday My Prince Will Come, Philly Joe Jones’s tenure with Miles Davis ended in 1958.
Meanwhile, Jones had expectedly become one of the most in-demand freelance drummers both during and immediately after his run with the classic quintet. Through the late 1950s, Jones ushered in the hard-bop and post-bop eras by adding his hard-hitting grooves to hundreds of classic recordings, in a period of almost unbelievable productivity. A few of these recordings include: from 1956, Jackie’s Pal with Jackie McLean, Tenor Madness with Sonny Rollins, and Mating Call with Tadd Dameron and John Coltrane, which features a Super Jet.”
From 1957, Jones can be heard on Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Blue Train with John Coltrane, which features Locomotion,” The Cooker with Lee Morgan, and Newk’s Time with Sonny Rollins, which contains the extended Rollins/Jones duet, Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”
In 1958, Jones is on Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Time Waits: The Amazing Bud Powell, and Blue Soul with Blue Mitchell, which features Polka Dots and Moonbeams. As if this were not enough, Jones can also be heard on recordings by Serge Chaloff, Elmo Hope, Phil Woods, Al Cohn, Kenny Drew, Clark Terry and Benny Golson, among others.
In the late 1950s, Jones also released his first records as a leader. Blues for Dracula from 1958 includes Jones’s best Bela Lugosi imitation, and features cornetist Nat Adderley and saxophonist Johnny Griffin.Drums Around the World from 1959 features a super group of Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Blue Mitchell, and Curtis Fuller. Also from 1959, Showcase is a superb date featuring many Jones compositions performed by the frontline of trumpeter Blue Mitchell, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, and trombonist Julian Priester.
The 1960s were a transformative period in the drummer’s career. The decade began much as the 1950s concluded – with the drummer participating in countless high profile sessions as a freelancer. Among the hard-bop highlights of his playing from the early 1960s include work with Dexter Gordon, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and Hank Mobley such as I Should Care, from Another Workout,which includes Jones’s restrained performance on brushes.
As the decade progressed, however, the gigs eventually began to taper off and Jones decided to relocate to Europe. His first stop was London, where he lived from 1967 to 1969 while teaching with friend and fellow drummer Kenny Clarke. Since British musicians’ union laws prevented Jones from performing in London, he moved to Paris in 1969, where he resided until his return to Philadelphia in 1972.
Jones recorded occasionally as a leader while in Europe, most notably on Moe Joe (1967) and Round Midnight (1969), and he entered the avant-garde realm through multiple performances with Archie Shepp, which have been documented on Blas, Poem for Malcolm, and Yasmina, a Black Woman.
After his return to Philadelphia, Jones formed a fusion group, Le Grand Prix, and he toured and recorded with Bill Evans, as evidenced on the 1976 quintet date, Quintessence, and participated in occasional freelance sessions with Kenny Burrell, Red Garland, Duke Jordan and Bobby Hutcherson. In the late 1970s, Jones also released a handful of records as a leader. Three of these include: Philly Mignon(1977), featuring Dexter Gordon and Drum Songs and Advance! (1978), both of which feature trumpeter Blue Mitchell in two of his final recordings.
Jones’s final long-standing musical project was Dameronia, a group dedicated to enhancing the legacy of one of Jones’s earliest bandleaders and musical mentors, Tadd Dameron. Co-founded by Jones and trumpeter Don Sickler, the NEA-granted nonet premiered in 1981 and can be heard on To Tadd, With Love (1982) and Look, Stop and Listen (1983).
Philly Joe Jones passed away of a heart attack at his home in Philadelphia on August 30, 1985 at the age of 62. He was survived by his wife, Eloise, and his son, Christopher. His more than 500 recordings set the standard for modern, aggressive-yet-tasteful jazz drumming, and his style has been widely imitated since the 1950s. Whether in a bebop, hard-bop, or post-bop lineup, seeing Philly Joe Jones on any record’s personnel list single-handedly ensures its high quality interaction and deep, serious swing a testament to the drummers contribution to the history of jazz.