Two celebrated jazz drummers with nearly identical names, who struggled for years to keep their identities straight in the public mind, have died within five days of each other, it was learned Wednesday.
Jonathan (Jo) Jones, who developed the driving but tasteful rhythms that paced the Count Basie band for years, and Joseph Rudolph (Philly Joe) Jones, the original drummer with Miles Davis’ legendary quintet, are both dead.
Jo Jones died Tuesday in New York City, and Philly Joe Jones died Friday in Philadelphia.
Jo Jones was 74 and had been battling cancer for years, while Philly Joe Jones was 62 and suffered a heart attack.
Raised in Alabama
The elder of the two musicians was raised in Alabama, where he learned saxophone, trumpet and piano. He left school to join a carnival, in which he toured as both a musician-singer and tap dancer, settling in Kansas City in 1933.
In 1935 he joined the embryonic Basie group and remained with what many consider the greatest jazz organization of all time until 1948.
He also appeared with Jazz at the Philharmonic and with Lester Young, and toured Europe with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson in 1957.
He was known for his compelling beat and driving style, in which he distinctively stated all four beats of the bar while subtly stroking the high-hat cymbal.
Won Down Beat Poll
He recorded with Harry James, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton and occasionally with the Benny Goodman Sextet. He won the Down Beat Critics poll in 1956.
Jones’ illnesses had limited his performing for several years. He made a final concert appearance at the Kool Jazz Festival last year. United Press International said he refused to quit the stage when his set ended, continuing to work his drums and encouraging more music from his colleagues.
Philly Joe Jones and trumpeter Davis, saxophonist John Coltrane, bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Red Garland made up the quintet that helped move jazz from the heated beat of the big bands that Jo Jones’ swinging 4/4 time had helped perpetuate into its “cool” era.
Joseph Rudolph Jones was the son of a piano teacher. Jo Jones already was a figure in jazz when he turned professional, so he adopted the name of his native city to differentiate between the two of them.
Tap Dancer as a Boy
As a boy, Philly Joe was a tap dancer who then turned to drums and performed with several Philadelphia bands. He remained in that city for several years, backing such visiting jazzmen as Dexter Gordon and Fats Navarro before joining Ben Webster’s group in Washington.
He began with Davis in 1952, and the Davis quintet, which generally did not rehearse, was credited with influencing future musicians out of proportion to its numbers.
Critic Ralph J. Gleason once called Philly Joe Jones “the greatest drummer in jazz today and maybe the greatest drummer since Chick Webb.”
For the next 30 years he was heard on more than 500 record albums for labels that included Prestige, Blue Note, Capitol and Riverside.
Appeared in L.A.
Philly Joe Jones left Davis in 1959 and most recently had fronted a band called Dameronia, a group he formed in tribute to pianist Tadd Dameron, with whom he played in 1954. His last Los Angeles appearance was in March, 1984, at Marla’s Memory Lane.
He also played with Coltrane’s group, Bill Evans’ trio, Art Pepper and McCoy Tyner. He lived in Europe from 1967 to 1972 and taught percussion during that period.
Jo Jones is survived by a son, Jonathan Jr., a daughter, Joann Johnson, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Philly Joe Jones is survived by his wife, Eloise, and his son, Chris, like his father a drummer in Philadelphia.