Though Jones was most often found as an accompanist on records featuring saxophonists and trumpeters, jazz fans frequently bought the albums based solely on his name appearing in the credits. The assumption was that if Hank was on the date, it had to feature superb chord voicings and solos by the pianist.
Yet despite Jones' enormous talent and industry-wide respect, he was never a showboat, self-centered or a tempestuous hothead. Always the gentleman, Jones prided himself on his technique, grace and adaptability to different artists.
Last week, during a phone conversation with Nat Hentoff, I asked the writer and author of At the Jazz Band Ball about Jones and why he elicits such a favorable reaction in listeners:
Pianist John Bunch and Hank had a thing going. John always made a point of telling me he was the oldest living jazz pianist—"not including Hank Jones"—and that he and Hank were having a race to see who could outlive the other. When I told Hank this last year, he roared with laughter. John and Hank were close friends, both having worked with Benny Goodman in the 1960s. Now both John and Hank are gone—and within about two months of each other. It's impossible for me to forget the gorgeous touch both pianists had on the keyboard.
"We're responding to Hank's serenity," Nat said. "No matter what the tempo or the mood, Hank's serenity always dominates. This guy knew who he was, and he kept working to find out more. I once told Hank what I liked most about his music was that it always sounded new. Hank replied, 'Every night I try again.' For Hank, the music was always new. There was always a horizon he hadn't reached yet."
Here are my 20 favorite Hank Jones recordings:
- Urbanity (1947)
- Bluebird (1955)
- Tonight's Music Today—Zoot Sims/Bob Brookmeyer (1956)
- Rhythm Was His Business—George Williams (1956)
- Dream of You—Helen Merrill (1956)
- Jazz Greats of Our Time—Manny Albam (1957)
- Wide Range—Johnny Richards (1957)
- Flute Suite—A.K. Salim (1957)
- Bass on Top—Paul Chambers (1957)
- Sonny Stitt with the New Yorkers (1957)
- Let's Face the Music and Dance—Urbie Green (1957)
- The Talented Touch (1958)
- Something Else—Cannonball Adderley (1958)
- Gene Krupa Plays Gerry Mulligan (1958)
- Jazz From Peter Gunn—Joe Wilder (1959)
- Portrait of Duke Ellington—Dizzy Gillespie (1960)
- So Much Guitar—Wes Montgomery (1961)
- One More: The Music of Thad Jones (2004)
- For My Father (2004)
- Our Delight with James Moody (2006)
Here's bassist Bob Cranshaw on Hank Jones, courtesy of jazz video documentarian Bret Primack...
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"Thanks for the mention of our little happening the other night with our new star Chloe Feoranzo. She was an absolute gas to play with, as you can imagine. With Med Flory getting his Charlie Parker chops going and Lester Young's sound being handled by Chloe and me. We also had trumpeter Carl Saunders playing with us.
"I have to tell you, there was a chemistry happening that I haven't experienced in years. There was something going on that I have been trying to recapture in bebop and West Coast jazz. With the most interesting bass player, Richard Simon and drummer Frank Capp catching everything we did, the night was totally entertaining and fun. I just wish I could pay the band by the note!"
"Great Wall Street Journal article, and I like your blog, too. All too often we read about jazz musicians like Art Pepper who climbed behind the wheel of a car under the influence and wound up in terrible accidents, often injuring others in the process.
"And too often the poor people who were hit by these drivers have been swept under the rug and forgotten as just another footnote. I know this firsthand, as I have been on the receiving end of these types of crashes and continue to suffer in pain 24/7 as a result.
"While I am a jazz addict now, and even love Art Pepper's work, I don’t respect the self-destructive person who seemed to care little about the victims he injured along the way."
Hank O'Neal. Photographer and Chiaroscuro Records owner- producer Hank O'Neal has started a wonderful daily blog. It features Hank's rich photos of jazz musicians and the stories behind them. The site has great authority and an insider's feel. Recent post subjects include Hank Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and Earl Hines. Go here. [Photo by Ian Clifford]
Doug Payne. CTI discographer and producer Doug Payne has started Sound Insights, a terrific blog on soul, r&b and disco. As readers know, I'm partial to all three. Doug writes with authority and passion. Go here.
Artie Shaw. David Brent Johnson has posted his latest WFIU Night Lights show, this time on Artie Shaw's 1949-1954 period, which includes his bop band and last Gramercy Five with Hank Jones on piano. Go here to listen to the Artie Shaw tribute.
CD discovery of the week: Tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer's new CD Canyon Cove is one of my favorite albums of the year. This album swings with enormous taste and creates a joyous groove that is sustained throughout. Bob's sound on is commanding without being overpowering. There's a gentle intensity about Bob's playing that's engaging and intoxicating. Every powdery note is meaningful and every arrangement on his new album is mindful of the listener.
On Canyon Cove, Bob plays tenor, bass clarinet and flute—in places, overdubbing himself in the most delicate ways. Bob is joined by organist Larry Goldings, who brings a Larry Young-Jimmy McGriff flavor to this date, and drummer Peter Erskine, who skillfully keeps Bob and Larry on the mark. In fact, if this album has a long lost relative, it would be Into Somethin', featuring organist Larry Young and saxophonist Sam Rivers.
Bob, of course, played with the Yellowjackets as well as in Buddy Rich's big band. He also has appeared with Mel Lewis & the Jazz Orchestra, the New York Saxophone Quartet and on Nancy Wilson's Nancy Now!
Recorded for Japan's Cheetah label, Canyon Cove costs upward of $45 as an import. But Bob tells me he's making copies available at his site for half that amount here. You'll also find videoclips there of tracks from the album. Scroll down at Bob's site and dig the clip of Thaddeus. If that doesn't knock you out, nothing will.Oddball album cover of the week. I have no idea which label released this album or the tracks that were included. But clearly neither mattered much to the marketers of this record. The inside joke here is the chalkboard's "sic vos non vobis"—Latin for "thus do ye, but not for yourselves." Long story short, the phrase was conceived by Virgil to out a fellow Greek poet who claimed that Virgil's verse was his own. It's one of the jazz lessons. On the chalkboard. Over there. You see the chalkboard, right?