Friday, August 8, 2008

"The Wonder" of Philly Joe Jones - Part 2

“The drummer is generally the member of the band most underrated by the audience and least discussed in the jazz historical and analytical literature. Since drummers don’t play harmonies and melodies in the same way as other instruments, audience members and even some musicians have a tendency to deprecate the musical knowledge of the person sitting behind the drum set. Many mistakenly assume that the drummer just plays rhythm and therefore doesn’t participate in the melodic and harmonic flow of the music.” Ingrid Monson, Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction [ Chicago: University of Chicago Press , 1996, p. 51].

Not only are there many misconceptions about the role of the drummer in a Jazz combo, but correcting these is further complicated by the fact that it difficult to talk about drums in a way that a non-drummer can understand. To his credit, Burt Korall does a superb job of remedying this problem throughout his book - Drummin’ Men - The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 219-233]. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Describing the Jazz drumming of the likes of a Philly Joe Jones represents even more of a challenge, but here again, Burt has shown that he is up to it as his descriptions of what makes “the wonder” in Philly’s drumming are articulate and expressed in words that most readers can easily understand.

He also gets a lot of assistance from Artie Shaw, Milt Hinton, Orrin Keepnews, Dick Katz, Kenny Washington, Don Sickler and Tony Scott, all of whom remember Philly with admiration and affection.
In this second part of the Jazzprofiles feature on Philly Joe Jones , Burt takes us through Philly’s early career in New York, but places his emphasis on his tenure with the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the 1950s - the highlight of Philly’s career. Included are numerous examples of various tunes on which Philly plays solos as well as things that Philly is doing behind the soloist that help make this music, as well as, his drumming so unique and special.

“The news about Philly Joe Jones spread rapidly through the New York music community. A bit of a paradox, he had great assets as a musician and an imposing number of personal limitations.

In 1951, he joined the Buddy Rich band as second drummer. Rich was one of his idols. He was proud to have been hired, and happy that the drum icon liked his playing. Rich made that unmistakable. He picked Jones up every night on the way to work - a rather uncommon thing for the super-drummer to do.

A great source of inspiration, intimidation, and frustration to Jones, Rich acted as a spur to Jones's ambition. To develop the high-level facility that would place him on the level of the freakish Rich became a major pre-occupation.

The obsession with Rich, which is shared by drummers across generations, never left him. A number of years later, after he had become an international star with Miles Davis, he still had this devil to deal with, among many others.

GEORGE WEIN: We embarked on our second tour of Japan in 1965 with four drummers: Philly Joe, Louie Bellson, Charli Persip, and Buddy. Philly done fantastically well on the first drummers' tour. He had a great following in Japan because of his records with Miles Davis. What Philly did with brushes really impressed Japanese jazz fans.

On the plane, Buddy said to Philly: "Look, Joe, you know what’s happening. You tell us how it should go down, and we'll just follow your lead." Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook were the horns. I've forgotten the names of the pianist and bass player. Anyway, all the drummers would be onstage at one time, and they'd start rhythmic patterns. One would play, then another. Then each one would do his own thing.

Out of respect, Philly insisted that Buddy close the show. In his heart, he wanted to make it tough for Buddy to follow him. He went on and did his thing and was fantastic! Then they introduced Buddy Rich.

Philly had gone down to the dressing room of the concert hall. Before long he was in the wings, watching and listening to Buddy. Because he had to follow Philly's great performance, Buddy turned it on from the outset. He made a special effort. You know Buddy's ego. Standing there with a towel around his neck, like an athlete after a big win, Philly focused on Buddy. Slowly, but surely, you could see Philly coming down, down, down. His face and body mirrored what was happening. Buddy was cutting him to bits. He turned and walked away. Obviously he couldn't take it anymore. His anger and frustration burst through. He said: "Motherfucker! "- so it clearly could be heard.

Philly Joe had been clean as a whistle. He was so excited about being in Japan, where he had enjoyed such enormous success. When Buddy him out, it destroyed him, This is my interpretation. Two days later, he went out and got busted for narcotics.”
Jones was arrested in Kobe, in western Japan. The New York Amsterdam News reported: "Narcotics officers reportedly seized 10 grams of drugs and several hypodermic needles. The type of drug was not revealed but it was stated that a search of Jones's hotel room in Kobe revealed traces of a powdered drug."

The habit and bad luck seemed to get in Jones's way. In early 1953, clarinetist Tony Scott, who had recently joined the Duke Ellington band, suggested Jones to maestro. There was about to be an opening in the band. Jones auditioned at the Bandbox, a club on Broadway next door to Birdland, where Ellington was appearing.

TONY SCOTT: Joe came in on a Tuesday and auditioned. All the older cats in the band, like Harry Carney, Russell Procope, and Hilton Jefferson, turned around and looked at him. Joe played the hell out of the Ellington things and was really swinging.

He was hired to come in on Thursday. But he didn't show. He'd gone home to Philadelphia and was arrested. The police were wrong. It was false arrest, a mistaken identity thing. But Joe was in jail for a couple of days and couldn't make the gig. When he came back to New York, it was too late. [Ed. note-Ellington hired Jones to play the score of the motion picture Paris Blues a few years down the line. There were four drummers: Sonny Greer, Max Roach, Jimmy Johnson, and Jones.]

That same year, Jones became a member of clarinetist Tony Scott's quartet - with Milt Hinton (bass) and Dick Katz (piano) - at Minton's in Harlem. Kenny Clarke was going to take the job but had become involved with the Modern jazz Quartet; he strongly recommended Philly Joe Jones. Jones brought his ample talent to bear on music that simultaneously reached into his swing roots and mirrored his bebop interests.

Scott attracted major attention with the band. He could have achieved substantial success with it had he seen fit to further season the quartet and book it throughout the country at a reasonable price. A live recording, taped by Johnny Mandel at Minton's, came out as part of Tony Scott in Hi Fi on Brunswick about four years later. It documents how good the quartet was.

One of very few clarinetists with sufficient musical know-how and warmth to deal inventively with bebop, Scott was moving toward a peak level as a player. He swung consistently and played the music in an increasingly persuasive manner.

Milt Hinton, one of the few bassists in his generation who found pleasure and challenge in modern jazz, was a source of stability, surety, and swing. Dick Katz, whose economic style mingled the past and present, fit in well.

Philly Joe Jones was the firemaker. Seemingly without breaking a sweat, he brought buoyancy and a sense of great excitement to the time, colorfully commenting, mostly with the left hand, as he proceeded. He was anything but monochromatic.

His four-bar exchanges with Scott were particularly effective because they were part of the unfolding musical story; there was no break in the continuity. He performed gracefully, moving across elements of the set - with heaviest concentration on the snare drum-adding intensity and quality to the music. Unlike so many drummers, he wasn't redundant. Try "Away We Go," an up-tempo burner, on the Brunswick LP.
TONY SCOTT: Joe had a lot of drive. He created different "sounds" that spurred you on. He came out of Sid Catlett. As a matter of fact, his hands and what he did with them reminded me of Sid. But he went way beyond that. Joe did a lot of cute show-biz things with the cymbal, dueling with it, playing little things on its underside. When you listened closely during a number or through an entire set, he often sounded like a horn player, particularly during his solos. You know, Joe was the only drummer who could play big band lead-ins or brass figures without rushing.
I used him later on a small band gig in the Village, in 1959 just before I left for Japan. Bill Evans and Jimmy Garrison were in the group. Philly came in for the last two weeks. One night, as we were playing the last number of the final set, Philly started to take down his drums. He went for the bass drum pedal first and dropped it in his case. Next he took down the snare and its stand Then the bass drum. All the while, he kept playing time on the ride cymbal. Next he took apart the hi-hat and lightly walked it over to the case. As he unscrewed the ride cymbal, we held the final note. The cymbal landed in the case just as we ended the tune. Boom! It was beautiful!

While we were at Minton's, I started announcing him as Philly Joe, so the people wouldn't confuse him with Papa Jo Jones. Later Philly had his name changed legally.
MILT HINTON: Philly Joe was a big guy with strong hands - and one of the drummers who played the modern jazz style correctly. He was doing really well at Minton's and did even better with Miles. Philly always used a lot of narcotics. But on the bandstand he was marvelous.

DICK KATZ: Philly Joe used to talk a lot about Sidney Catlett. He liked Mat Roach and Art Blakey but was far more polished than Blakey. Philly was hip and slick. He called me "Dick Dogs" and could be a totally impossible person.

A lot of musicians warned me not to do it, but I went out on the road with him once after the Minton's thing. All the bad things that you can imagine happened. We were at the Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh. There was chaos. He got a big advance for himself and didn't pay the band.

Tell you one thing: he made me play way over my head. Kicked me in the ass and forced me to do it. He could be intimidating and something a bully. But underneath he was a softie. But I wasn't ready back then to be a philosopher.

The man was totally musical and very dramatic. And he was precise. You’d better believe that! When he was given thirty-two bars, that's what he would play. If he took a few choruses, he expected you to listen, not walk off the bandstand, and come in just where you should. He didn't fool around!

Philly was very adroit with the bass drum. He used it sparingly and very tastefully. He was a virtuoso of the hi-hat. I think his greatest strengths were color and his pulse. Certainly he was instantly recognizable. And his fours were as exciting as any I've ever heard.
Jones could burn you alive with fours, eights, half choruses, and choruses. He was beyond compare when soloing up to and a bit beyond a chorus. The longer solos, however, were not on that level. Though generally musical and interesting, they were not as good as the shorter bursts. This limitation had to do with technique, control, and concentration-the ability to execute and develop ideas over the long haul. Jones was no slouch. Most drummers would give their eyeteeth to be able to do what he did. But he wasn't a virtuoso like Rich or Roach or Joe Morello or Louie Bellson, no matter how hard he tried to become one.
Kenny Washington, an excellent contemporary drummer, who knows more about Philly Joe Jones than almost anyone, insists Jones "had the best of two worlds. Legit chops, on the one hand, and what I call 125th Street/ South Philadelphia slickness -the on-the-corner stuff - on the other."

Arthur Taylor felt that "Philly encompassed everything. He had the technique, the control, He knew all the rhythms. His imagination was unbelievable. He was my favorite."

All the elements compound best on the recordings Jones made with Miles Davis for Prestige and Columbia in the 1950s. They are classic performances by a band that lived and traveled and experienced a lot-together. There was some turbulence in the band, but the recordings mirror little of that.

JONES: Working with Miles was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The original quintet can be traced back to my hometown. Red Garland, John Coltrane, and I had this little band. We worked locally at clubs like the Blue Note. We got together with Miles, who brought Paul Chambers into the band.
It wasn't that cut-and-dried. Davis wanted Sonny Rollins, and the tenor man was in and out of the band. John Gilmore from Chicago was tried at a few rehearsals. Finally Coltrane was called by Philly Joe Jones to play the first gig by the quintet at the Anchors Inn in Baltimore. The band opened on September 28, 1955.

Chambers, an accomplished twenty-year-old bassist from Detroit, was Jackie McLean's recommendation. He had been working with Chambers in pianist George Wallington's group at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village.

It didn't take long for the band to solidify and make an impression. By the end of its first tour, there was a great deal of talk about the quintet, though some fans were disappointed that Rollins wasn't in the band.

Davis had attracted a rush of attention a few months earlier at the Newport jazz Festival. He made an electrifying appearance, after a time in the shade. The press "rediscovered" him. Record companies pursued him. Indeed, it was Miles Davis's time.

The records tell the story. Though Jones and Coltrane were fired and rehired because of drug problems and differences with Davis, all the musicians liked one another and had in common a concept, an approach to playing music that stemmed from Davis. They had the freedom they needed to carry it out and find their own paths as well.

Coltrane, obsessive about moving ahead, practiced and tried new things all the time, on and off the bandstand. Garland sought the economy, precision, and color particular to the style of Ahmad Jamal while incorporating harmonic elements out of Erroll Garner. Chambers developed rapidly with Davis. Clearly it was a musical environment that motivated growth and continuing invention.
Philly Joe Jones again was the firemaker. He was flexible and confident. often establishing an almost strutting thrust. His solos were flowing and almost always surprising. Their shape and structure had an underlying musicality about them - a sense of inevitability. One pattern melded with the next. There was sharpness and exactness in his ensemble performances, behind the soloists, and when he spoke for himself.

Jones played what he knew and felt, often reaching beyond that. He introduced textural variety on the snare and the other drums as well. The tom-toms often took on a melodic quality, particularly when Jones put together patterns across the drums. The way Jones played the hi-hat and top cymbals gave performances delightful immediacy. Trickery on the hi-hat - crafty and rhythmically so effective - added to the quality and value of his supportive playing and solos.

Jones's playing was sophisticated and down home, loud and demanding. He generally said something and gave his colleagues what they needed. Davis relished Jones's fire and intensity, The trumpeter couldn't do without them. Though Jones often wanted to play brushes, which he did as few could, Davis preferred sticks and strength and Jones's constant comment.

JIMMY GIUFFRE: One night, I asked Philly Joe: "Don't you ever play softly? You're so busy and play so loud." "I know what you mean," Philly said. "But I can't do it in Miles's band. He wants me to play 'up there '- surround the music with the cymbal sound and play a lot of stuff on the drums." Philly thought for a minute, then made me an offer: "I'll tell you what. Come down to the club [Ed. note - I believe it was the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village on Sunday afternoon]. I'm going to play soft, down low, with the band. You watch what Miles does." Sure enough, after Philly began playing softly with brushes that Sunday, Miles turned around and, in that raspy voice of hi~. angrily made his feelings known: "What the fuck are you doing, man? Play!”

The 1950s clearly were Philly Joe Jones's most important period. He was admired and imitated. He could sweep you off your feet. As early as the January 30, 1953, Miles Davis date on Prestige with Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins (tenors), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), and Percy Heath (bass) Jones's gritty pulsation and consistently captivating and uplifting embroidery were all you could want as a player or listener.

The surge was made all the more compelling by the decisive snapping sound of the hi-hats closing on "2" and "4" of every 4/4 measure. Not only that, he used big band techniques where most effective - try "Compulsion.' He hit hard, further defining accents in the melodic line, playing linking figures, and placing bass drum accents under the right notes in the ensembles. These techniques enhanced the time flow.

The great records for Prestige (Relaxin'. Cookin’, Steamin’, Workin', and Green Haze, all recorded in 1955 and 1956) and two Columbia albums ('Round Midnight and Milestones, the first recorded in 1955 and 1956, the second in 1958, with alto saxophonist Julian " Cannonball " Adderley added to the band) have several things in common.

The repertory is a mixture of the great American standards, originals stemming from bebop, and new pieces by Jackie McLean and Benny Golson. The performances are "seasoned" - a favorite Jones descriptive. They're what could be expected of a great road band. Philly Joe Jones was the pivot around which everything rhythmically developed. He reacted strongly to Davis. The spare, powerful, thought- and emotion-provoking Davis solos played on his sensitivities. For Coltrane, he was an encouraging, assuring colleague, stimulating, laying down a carpet of sound as the saxophonist sought and searched for his own truth. Jones danced lightly behind Garland and worked well with Chambers, giving the bassist the window he needed to operate and be heard.

Jones makes really outstanding "music" on Davis's "Four," from Workin'. His cymbal playing is wonderfully light; his left hand prods and probes possibilities. His four-bar comments are a rudimental feast. "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," from Steamin', again proves how easily Jones could make his point with low-level, singing cymbal work. Each stroke is heard and perfectly spaced. But it's the emotional weight he brings to acutely defined, contributing ideas that makes all the difference. He creates a singular environment for each soloist.

"Salt Peanuts," one of his best and most integrated solo performances, is the highlight of Steamin'. As the solo develops and moves through your senses, Jones's charm, technical swiftness, and how well he works with form seduces you. You hear or sense the basic "Salt Peanuts" figure throughout; he breaks up rhythms and reactively expands on ideas.

The Davis-Jones collaborations musicians like best are two items from Milestones. The title piece, with a sixteen-bar bridge, is in AABA song form (breakdown: 8-8-16-8). Its rhythmic character encourages the drummer to play, to contribute. It's one of Philly Joe Jones's classic performances. One of the first things Davis recorded based on scales, it moves right along in medium/up-tempo incorporating what has become known as the "Philly Joe lick" - a cross-stick accent on the fourth beat of each bar. I heard Blakey play this pattern first, but Jones uses it more frequently and provocatively. Here it becomes part of the structure of the piece and gives rhythmic impetus to the performance it would not otherwise have had.

The second item, a trio treatment of a traditional song, "Billy Boy," is a matter of evocative interplay among Red Garland, Chambers, and Jones. In a tempo between medium and up, it grabs hold of you and never lets go. Garland establishes a cocktail lounge chordal sound and gives it jazz muscle. Chambers lays down the time and takes an arco solo of quality.

But it's Philly Joe Jones's party. He plays a series of four-bar exchanges with his friends that are exemplary. Each four-bar invention - brushes or sticks- is better than the one that preceded it. All the while, the intensity builds. He dances around the set and gives variety to each episode, using everything at his disposal in a classy, productive manner.

I also recommend, without reservation, "Gone," from Miles Davis and Gil Evans's Porgy and Bess (Columbia), for a highly reactive solo by Jones, a matter of one-, two-, four- and eight-bar flashes of inspiration in which the commentary is well woven within the fabric of the piece. Jones's time and technique during this performance are not quickly forgotten.

DON LAMOND: Nobody has ever played better fours than Philly Joe did on "Billy Boy." He sneaks over from brushes to sticks and doesn't miss a beat. He has the greatest sound on the top cymbal, the bass drum. He must have really gotten sober for that record date, because the things he plays are just phenomenal. He makes pure music.
ARTIE SHAW: Philly was a bitch on the Miles records - with the quintet, sextet. and with Gil Evans and the large orchestra. He knew what drums are all about. The drummer isn't supposed to make time but to keep time. He should be a propelling, motivating force. You don't want the drummer intruding on you. Helping is what it's all about. Philly took care of the job, as few could.
The nature of Jones's career after leaving Miles Davis in 1958 could have been predicted. Everyone wanted him for recording sessions, ranging from Hank Mobley to Bill Evans, from Elmo Hope to Tadd Dameron. They all yearned for that fire, that sensitivity, and all that went with it.

Jones made over five hundred albums. Among them are several of his, own on Riverside and Uptown. All speak well for him. When it came to the music, he was a very serious man.
ORRIN KEEPNEWS: Philly Joe was the greatest recording drummer I've ever known. He had an awareness of the requirements of the process and what he had to do. He would always ask about how the sound of the instrument was coming across in the booth. Philly was open to suggestions and conscious of what he had to do. He could adapt easily to situations. This was a great asset in the recording studio. Philly very easily could change the volume and intensity of his playing and still boot the band as much as ever.

Sure, he could be a pain in the ass and unreliable. His addiction was a problem for those who worked with him. He was controlled to a large extent by his habit. But his problem didn't interfere with his performances and how conscious he was of what had to happen in the studio.
Very strongly impelled by the desire to pass on what he knew, Jones had students and gruffly talked to many young drummers who wanted to know how he made miracles on the drum set. He moved around a good deal in the last phases of his career. He spent time in California. "I was on the Charlie Barnet band for a while," he said with some enthusiasm. For five years, he lived and worked and taught in England and France. In Paris, he hooked up with Kenny Clarke in a teaching situation. "Kenny knew so much; he was my man," he told me. Jones was treated as an icon abroad. In France's Jazz Magazine, a review of Jones by critic Alain Gerber at Paris Museum of Modern Art carried the headline " Le Divin Philly Joe." Jones came home to stay In 1972. He returned to Philadelphia, where he headed a jazz/rock group and freelanced. After some planning and discussion, Jones and Don Sickler, a trumpeter, composer, and student of the music, decided to present the music of Tadd Dameron to the public. Eloise Woods Jones, the drummer's wife, who worked hard to bring this project to reality, applied for and received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. It helped make possible Dameronia, a nine-piece band headed by Philly Joe Jones. Sickler was musical director. The band made a memorable debut in Philadelphia in April of 1981, then deeply impressed New Yorkers. It recorded as well, bringing into the foreground at least some of Dameron's valuable, profoundly musical legacy.

Jones's life mellowed out in the final years. He was no longer "Crazy Philly Joe. " People weren't afraid of what he might do. He became a very close friend of Don and Maureen Sickler. DON SICKLER: The old problems were no longer a threat to people who were tight with him. We found him a very sensitive, intelligent guy. He'd sit for hours in our music room, playing the piano, concentrating on Monk material. He continued practicing his rudiments, upside down and backwards. He was so serious about continuing to learn and remind himself about all a drummer needs to know. Philly retained the enthusiasm for music and his instrument.

One night on a gig with Dameronia, he said: "Can you believe we're actually up here having all of this fun, playing this great music - and getting paid for it!"Jones took only gigs he wanted in the last years. The money had to be there; the job had to be interesting and "convenient." He played, studied, and recorded with the Manhattan Transfer and vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson, among others. He completed drum instruction books, defining his methods. He told one writer that he was still trying to perfect his roll.

Jones's health was not at all stable. Considering what he had put his body through over the years, it was a surprise he was still alive. The fire went out on August 30, 1985. The press said a heart attack was the cause. Friends indicated he had cancer. The cause of death is not important. What he did for music while he was here is.”


  1. Great article - he was the greatest!

  2. Excellent article. I really love Phily´s performances.

  3. I love Art Blakey but Philly can be a bit more distinct in the fours. He has a great sound and great fantasy.

  4. Thank you for this on this Great Drummer. I saw him play live once-then that was it!I followed his career. Both solo albums and as a sideman he never disappoints to drive the band and inspire.


Please leave your comments here. Thank you.