Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Wonder of Philly Joe Jones [From The Archives]

Of all the drummers I've ever listened to, and trust me, I've listened to a lot of drummers over the past half century, the one with the most distinctive "voice" was "Philly" Joe Jones. Two bars and I knew it was him. He played with so much fire and brio that when he was in the drum chair, excitement abounded everywhere in the music.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles was just learning its way around blogging when the following piece about Philly Joe was published in two parts in August, 2008.

We wanted to bring it back by combining it into one feature, re-formatting the fonts and the graphics and adding a video playlist at the conclusion that offers examples of his drumming in various contexts.

No drummer ever "lit it up" more than Philly Joe Jones.



"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."
- Burt Korall, Jazz author, critic 

Steven Cerra [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Have you ever wondered how, in a world without today’s variety of Jazz drumming instructional aides, a drummer of the splendor and magnitude of “Philly” Joe Jones came into existence? How did this force of nature manifest itself and become one of the most dynamic drummers in the history of Jazz?

Obviously there are a host of different answers to this question because until the development of standardized instructional materials, each drummer had to create their own teaching method. 

In Baganda, one of the five Bantu kingships from which the modern state of Uganda takes its name, fathers pass down the complex poly-rhythms used to communicate messages sent by “jungle” drums by placing their hands over the hands of their young sons using “feel” to convey and transfer these rhythmic codes. This is done over a period of years until at some point in the process, the fathers’ top hands come off and the youngsters are on their own.

While not nearly as picturesque, aspiring young drummers in the 1940s and 50s who wanted to play modern Jazz were forced to learn by observing, by asking questions and by any other anecdotal means possible. There were very few formalized [let alone, ritualized] patterns of instruction, not surprisingly perhaps because their were also very few Jazz drummers who taught, or even had the ability to teach [to their credit, Cozy Cole and Gene Krupa did operate a drum school in New York for many years where modern Jazz drummers could go to “work on things,” but the instruction was mostly informal].

For those wanting to play the style of modern Jazz drumming coming into existence in the 1940s and 50s, learning how to do so became something of a enormous quest for knowledge and technique.

Jazz drumming in the preceding Traditional Jazz [Dixieland] and Swing eras was largely an outgrowth of marching band drumming so anyone schooled in snare drum rudiments could do a pedestrian job of playing drums in these styles [assuming that they also had an over-riding sense of time].

But modern Jazz drumming of the form then evolving in the hands [and feet] of Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Art Blakey required an entirely different orientation to the instrument and a totally singular application of the drum rudiments.

Judging from the 500-600 modern Jazz albums he would play on during his career, it would appear that Philly Joe Jones’ quest to find the Holy Grail of Jazz drumming was successful.

To push the metaphor a bit more, Philly Joe Jones didn’t just find the grail of modern Jazz drumming, he also changed the shape or, in this case, the “sound of it.”

For it is inconceivable that the sound of modern Jazz drumming, particularly in the 1950s, would have been the same without the style of drumming that Philly Joe Jones so painstakingly developed.

He established himself as "Philly Joe" Jones, from the name of the city of his birth, to distinguish himself from the drumming mainstay of Count Basie’s band - Jo Jones.

But just as Jo Jones established the rhythm section standard in the 30’s and 40’s, Philly Joe would do the same in the 50’s.





Into the 1950's - PHILLY JOE JONES (1923-1985) 

Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men - The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 219-233].


"Philly Joe was the most talented, the funniest, the most versatile person I ever met." - DONALD BYRD

“Undoubtedly, Joseph Rudolph "Philly Joe" Jones was the most talented drummer to emerge in the 1950's. But there was much more to him than that. During my research process, it became increasingly clear that he had rare, surprising capacities that went far beyond the instrument he played.

Jones was an appealingly facile tap dancer, a pianist, a composer, an arranger, and a songwriter. He sang ballads and scatted, improvising on standards and jazz originals. He could handle the bass violin – left handed - and skillfully deal with the tenor saxophone. Jones read and interpreted - with little apparent difficulty- transcribed solos by his friend fellow Philadelphian John Coltrane.

If that weren't enough, he was, in addition, an entertainer with unusual presence and great ability as a mimic and comedian. I commend to your attention his now famous Bela Lugosi/Count Dracula imitation (Blues for Dracula - Philly Joe Jones Riverside, OJCCD-230-2). He did it so accurately and with flair that he might well have intimidated comedian-commentator Lenny Bruce, whose Lugosi impressions inspired the multifaceted drummer to this a part of his act.



Philly Joe Jones could have been an actor - or just about anything in the area of entertainment. But drums made his heart beat faster than anything else. As is generally the case with attraction, to music or anything else, you little choice in the matter.

JONES: One day in the kindergarten room, I saw and heard a snare drum and knew drums were for me. Because my mother had to go out and work hard to take care of the family, my sister took me to school with her. Mrs. Young, the principal and my mother's friend, allowed me to spend the day in kindergarten with the older kids. I was about two years old. It was day care, long before it became a factor 'round the country.’

I started drumming when I was about nine. On May Day, another little fellow and I played snare drum around the May Pole, to help celebrate that day in Philadelphia. Most kids love any kind of drum. I was into the snare drum. [Ed. note - This became increasingly apparent as his style took form later on.]Because it was family tradition, Jones learned about the piano. It was such a familiar, recurrent sound around the house. If he had had the patience to sit down and study and practice early on, his level of competence would have been significantly enhanced. His mother or one of his aunts or cousins - they all played the instrument - could have taught him.

JONES: My grandmother, a concert pianist, brought all of her seven daughters into music. Most of them, including my mother, focused on the piano. My Aunt Vi played the violin. Aunt Helen Scott was a tenor saxophonist. She was the tenor soloist in Vi Burnside's All-Girl Band.

"I wish I had really studied the piano," Jones said, his voice expressing regret. Continuing exposure to the instrument, however, made it possible for him to more readily understand music and what he would later have to deal with as a drummer, composer-arranger, and songwriter.


Like a number of other major drummers - Buddy Rich, Jo Jones, Louie Bellson - Jones first expressed his inner rhythm as a tap dancer. He regularly appeared on The Kiddie Show over radio station WIP in Philadelphia. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that he was drawn to show business. Jones, in fact, had a built-in spotlight, centered on himself. Clearly, Jones had "a talent to amuse," to paraphrase a Noel Coward lyric.

JONES: When I was very young, I played drums the way I felt like playing them. Didn't study, really. James "Coatsville" Harris, a great drummer in Philadelphia, got me started. After he found I had some kind of talent and a feel for the instrument, he showed me a whole bunch of things, set me up, got me going. That was the first formal instruction I had. Harris concentrated mostly on rudiments. I didn't develop any real reading ability until I studied with Cozy Cole in the 1940s.

The pattern was set during the years in Philadelphia. Too young to get into clubs, Jones would sneak out and listen to the music and drummers he admired. He asked the older musicians questions and sat in when he could. Long before Jones was tabbed "Philly Joe" by group leader-clarinetist Tony Scott during an engagement at Minton's in 1953, he did all he could to informally learn about music and the drums.

After high school, Jones went into the service. He wasn't assigned to Special Services or a band, though he spent a lot of time with musicians and often sat in with bands wherever he was stationed. When Jones returned home to Philadelphia, he became "serious." He bought his first set of drums and went into the "woodshed," practicing constantly until he felt he was ready to face the music around town.



CHARLIE RICE: I met Joe when he was a teenager, at a place called the Roseland in West Philly, at Arch and Udell streets. It was a breeding ground for musicians. We both weren't old enough to be there. That's where I learned to play drums. Jimmy Preston and a couple of other musicians worked at the place. Playing in different clubs, testing ourselves, seeing who could play the best-that was the thing at the time.

Joe always came around. He later played at the Downbeat when I was in the house band there. The guys used to talk about how talented he was. When the big guns came in from New York, he frequently was the drummer they wanted. I always seemed to be running into Joe. I could talk to him. We were straight with one another. Even though he got strung out and sick and did some really "bad" things, I couldn't get mad at him.

Joe kept things to himself, even when his life was rough. One time I saw him on South Street in front of Gertz, the department store. He had been through some tough times. He started telling me about all the big deals he had. I knew he wasn't doing well. He finally realized who he was talking to and said: "Oh, Charlie, man, you and I-we've been out here for so many years." That's the way he was. Coltrane was the same way. Neither one of them would complain or open up.

Joe was a guy with such a great personality. The things people said about him rolled off his back. When you'd see him, he'd always have something funny to do or something funny to say. Any way you look at it, he was a super player. He and Shadow [Wilson] were the most talented drummers to come out of Philadelphia.

TOM FERGUSON: The back of our place faced the house where Joe lived. It was on Blakemore Street. We were on Matthews Street in Germantown. My father was friendly with the Jones family. Joe and I got to know one another I used to run into him when I started playing the guitar.

I didn't get to know Joe as a player until I got a gig at the Downbeat which was on 11th Street, near the Earle Theater. The guys in the traveling bands that played the theater used to come by the Downbeat to sit in. Jimmy Golden, a piano player, had the band. Ziggy Vines and Al Steele were on tenor. Shrimpy Anderson played bass. Charlie Rice was our regular drummer.

Joe had a job driving a trolley car - the 21 line that extended from Chestnut Hill, at the very top of Philadelphia at the North End, all the way through the city down to South Philadelphia. That was the longest trolley ride in the city.

It ran on 11th Street, right past the Downbeat, which was on the second floor.

Joe often stopped the trolley in front of the club. He'd grab the controls, jump out, and sit in for a number or two. The people hung out the window. of the trolley, growing more and more impatient. They wanted to get home, or wherever they were going. When Joe got back to the trolley, everybody would cheer, and off they'd go to South Philly.

Joe was a gregarious guy. I always was very fond of him.

Later on, I'd see him when he played at Pep's or the Blue Note. I'd bump into him around our neighborhood or riding on the subway. It always was very pleasant.




The years in Philadelphia were important. Jones began to find his way stylistically. He loved Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Kenny Clarke. He had listened to and studied the work of Baby Dodds, Jo Jones, Chick Webb, Denzil Best, Dave Tough, Tiny Kahn, and certainly Sidney Catlett - one of his mentors. He was very fond of the playing of O'Neil Spencer, whom many of us remember warmly for his excellent performances with the John Kirby little band in the 1930s and 1940s

JONES: The exposure to the great people had a lot to do with how I came along-how I thought about music. I didn't want to sound like anyone. I wanted to have my own sound and way of doing things.

I really dug O'Neil. He came to a club in Philadelphia where I was working in 1943, I think it was, and talked to me about the hi-hat. I was using a foot cymbal, the low-hat. O'Neil was the one who invented the hi-hat. I believe that, man. [Ed. note - So many people claimed to have created hi-hat: Kaiser Marshall, Jo Jones, and others.] He suggested I close the hat on "2' and "4" when playing in 4/4 time. The idea seemed so right; hadn't heard anyone do that before.


Sid Catlett took the time to show me what to do about many things including brushes. Sid had developed so many brush techniques. He helped a lot of young drummers. He was that kind of a guy. Max and Art Blakey, who were my idols, were encouraging and told me to come to New York.

I used to visit Max regularly in Brooklyn at his Monroe Street apartment. Sometimes Kenny Dennis, another drummer, came along. Max was great to me. Whenever he was in Philadelphia, he'd look me up. I remember one time, when I was driving a grocery truck, he rode around with me for an entire afternoon. We talked about just everything. He kept insisting I come to New York. I left home and went to New York in 1947, intending to stay on permanently.


Jones's need to learn and play made for some stability in what was becoming an increasingly unstable life. Like many others at that time, he went along with the philosophy "If it feels good, do it!" Drugs became central to his day-to-day life. He often behaved in a totally impossible manner - doing people out of money, taking what wasn't his, pawning whatever he could get his hands on, particularly drums - in order to keep up with the increasing demands of his habit. A lot of musicians were afraid to associate with him. This was the "Crazy Joe" side of this increasingly brilliant musician. It took a number of years before he began turning away from such behavior.

But there was his other side. The need to study, to know about music, to play better than everyone else, often kept him on a sensible level. His ability as an entertainer worked for him, giving him immediate entry into a discerning circle of musicians, comedians, actors. They appreciated his quickness, his humor and talent. The Jones charm was devastatingly effective and often deluding - a way of getting what he wanted. It could have strong elements of con.

In the late 1940s, Jones began studying with Cozy Cole, the popular Swing Era drummer. It was a very important experience for Jones.

JONES: Cozy had a studio in a building on West 48th Street across from Manny's, the popular all-around music store. Max was studying vibes with Cozy. Jo Jones was working out some stuff with him, too. I went there regularly for lessons and followed him to West 54th Street and Eighth Avenue, where he and Gene Krupa had their drum school.

Cozy was a great teacher. My reading ability, whatever I do, he's responsible for it. When I came to him, I couldn't. When I left him, I could. It's as simple as that. Cozy was very stern. He'd say: "Play that!" If you didn't play it perfectly - from top to bottom - he wouldn't let you go on. He asked a lot of his students. You had to give him what he wanted. I worked very hard on rudiments. Cozy put heavy emphasis on them. Until then, I played the best I could with a number of bands - in Philadelphia and New York - relying on my instincts
.


Jones would practice all the time, sometimes with other drummers in town. He worked on variations of the rudiments, using paradiddle, flams, triplets, all sorts of rolls, ratamacues, single strokes, and rudimental combinations in new, exciting ways, changing their sound and feeling, making them more musically meaningful. The hard work soon began to pay off. His experiments with rudiments added to his musicality. [Emphasis, mine].

Jones would carry around Modern Rudimental Swing Solos, the classic instruction book by Charles Wilcoxin, notable for difficult yet ultimately fulfilling exercises that promoted facility. He kept at them. Mastering the book became an obsessive matter. His goal was to diversify how rudiments were used and make them more jazz-effective [Emphasis, mine].

Philadelphia colleagues remember with unusual pleasure what he could do even before he went to New York and studied. Jones played with leading New York musicians but spent much of his time working with local players who were deeply into finding singular ways to treat the new music. One was Jimmy Heath, who came to be known as "Little Bird" around Philadelphia.




JIMMY HEATH: Joe was very natural. He understood music better than most drummers because he could play the piano. His drumming was meaningful and well structured. He could swing at any tempo and make you feel it - anything from a slow groove to real, real fast, the Max Roach tempo. Joe's pulse was terrific. Whatever he played had great feeling, no matter who the musicians were.

I worked with Joe a good deal back home. On one particular gig, we had Clifford Brown. You know he could play. Sugey Rhodes was on bass, and I think Dolo Coker was at the piano. It was wonderful. Joe had his problems, no doubt about that. But he always could play and, basically, was a very generous person.

BENNY GOLSON: Philly Joe was a little older than the rest of us - John Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, and the others. He had gotten started earlier than we did. As far as development, he was down the road a bit. I kind of worshipped him from afar.


A lot of us in Philadelphia came along at about the same time. We were trying to deal with bebop. Certainly Philly Joe was latching onto it. So was bassist Nelson Boyd and Red Garland, the pianist who later was so impressive with Miles [Davis]. I watched the whole thing start to change in town. Bebop created a whole new environment.

I got a gig for the summer in 1951 with Bull Moose Jackson and his Bearcats. I was just getting my feet wet. Joe came into the band. He 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.


He was so sensitive to what was going on that things fell into the right places. He didn't use a paradiddle, a flam tap, or a ruff without an underlying reason. When he played something, it added to the moment and what was going on emotionally. That's what I liked about him.

Tadd Dameron, the great arranger, was the pianist in the Jackson band Both Bull Moose and Tadd were from Cleveland. Bull Moose convinced Tadd to come out on the road with him. When he was thinking about changing the drummer, he asked me if I knew a good one. I suggested Joe, though I wondered just how well he would fit in the band. But he worked out fine. We all sang in unison. Bull Moose, a singer, had a lot of hits. The ladies wanted to hear those love ballads.

Two years later, we worked together again. Tadd had the band at a place called the Paradise in Atlantic City. He hired great players -Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Cecil Payne. I was lucky to be in the band. Tadd wrote all the music. We didn't play any jazz, just show and dance music.




Joe handled everything so well because he was such a good musician. He cut the shows easily. By that time he was a good reader. Singer Betty Carter, "Bebop Betty," was one of the principals in the show. I remember she did "Lady Be Good," at an impossibly fast tempo. Joe and our bassist Jymie Merritt were right with her. No difficulty whatsoever. Joe could play in any tempo.

When Joe finally left Philadelphia permanently, and no longer was a local, he didn't sing or dance or play bass and only occasionally sat down at the piano. He was strictly a jazz drummer.


STAN LEVEY: I knew him in Philadelphia, in New York, and out here in Los Angeles. Joe had extraordinary talent-everything a great drummer needs. Good ears. Good hands. Good ideas. And the ability to execute and use what he knew and felt, in the right way.


But he was stoned out of his mind all the time. I'm not pointing a finger; I had more than a little difficulty with that sort of thing myself. I know it doesn't really do anyone any good. You can end up in prison or dead if you don't turn it around.
Philly Joe Jones had his own stylistic recipe. However, some of the first things he recorded with Joe Morris's band on Atlantic were essentially in an R&B groove. They didn't allow him to show what he could do. Johnny Griffin, Elmo Hope, and Percy Heath, who later would become widely known in jazz, were in the Morris band.


Jones moved through a developmental process. He took what he liked in Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Kenny Clarke; what attracted him to the work of Sidney Catlett, Chick Webb, Cozy Cole, Jo Jones, Shadow Wilson, Dave Tough, Denzil Best, O'Neil Spencer, and, later, Buddy Rich. He mixed and blended ideas and techniques and came up with something very much his own. His style and manner of performance were well applied in any context. [Emphasis, mine]

MEL LEWIS: Philly was a combination of so many good things. A swing drummer, he updated that style, giving it a very contemporary feeling. He swung and had a very distinctive sound. Philly brought back depth to drums. He used what essentially is big band drum tuning-deep bass drum, usually a little larger than the so-called hipper people generally play. His bass drum pedal had a heavy beater ball.

Philly was a fantastic brush player. He was the culmination of certain trends. There's Max in his playing, Buddy Rich, others, but all with his mark and feel. Yeah, he played strong and loud. But he deserves a special place in drumming.

To go back to the beginning, he's a combination of a lot of things ... and still much emulated.... Young drummers can learn a lot from him.


Slim Gaillard, the many-faceted entertainer, musician, group leader, and humorous jive talker, claims to have presented Philly Joe Jones for the first time in New York. Like all who aspire to come here and make it, Jones was intimidated by the enormous competition and the possibility of failure in jazz's capital city.

SLIM GAILLARD: I have a bunch of fellows that I brought out into the jazz world. Like Philly Joe Jones-I brought him from Philadelphia to New York. He was afraid to go there, because they had all the heavies in Birdland. He said: "Oh Slim, I don't think I can make it." I said: "You're going to." He said: "You think I can?" I said: "Let's go." When I brought him into Birdland, he was shaking. But when we made our appearance there, the house came down .... In interviews he always says: "Slim Gaillard brought me out of Philadelphia and got me started in the big leagues."


... to be continued in 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.”


Here's a video playlist that features Philly Joe's drumming in four, different settings.


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