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Celebrating The Birthday Of Thad Jones

Paul Oberlin

This week on 12th Street Jump we celebrate the birthday of Thad Jones with our special guest Stan Kessler. On the lighter side, we improvise a “Who’s Got the Blues” about our buddy Stan and later “Serena’s School For Scat” tries to help politicians stay honest.

Thad Jones was born in Pontiac, Michigan, a brother to Hank Jones (pianist), and Elvin Jones (drummer). A self-taught trumpet player, he took his early talent with him to World War II, where he played in U.S. Army bands. After returning from the war and working for some time in Des Moines and Oklahoma City, (including recording some tracks with Charles Mingus), he was recruited to play and arrange for the Count Basie Orchestra in May of 1954. He was with the Orchestra in New York City, including during the first performance by African American musicians at the Waldorf Astoria, and traveled with the Orchestra on its European tour that decade.


In 1963, Jones left the Count Basie Orchestra to free lance as a player and composer in New York City. He played informally at night with other studio artists, including Mel Lewis, at various clubs frequented by musicians. From out of these sessions, Jones and Lewis collected players to form their own big band, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and began playing a short-term gig at the Village Vanguard which turned into a permanent gig (even today)! Jones arranged, and sometimes played, for the group for twelve years. Some say the big band style suited him well because he liked to build complex chords and play with instrumental combinations to create new, bigger sounds than were traditionally heard. The band was one of the most influential big bands since the swing era (30s & 40s). In 1978, they won a Grammy for their album, Live in Munich, recorded during an overseas tour.


After leaving the Orchestra that same year, Jones moved to Copenhagen, where he taught jazz at a university and recorded the album Eclipse. He returned to the U.S. for a short time to direct the Count Basie Orchestra after the Count himself passed away. But in 1986, he returned to Copenhagen, to live out the last few months of his own life.



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