Born Joseph Rudolph Jones, July 15, 1923, in Philadelphia, PA; died of a heart attack, August 30, 1985, in Philadelphia. Military/Wartime Service: U.S. Army, 1941-47.
Joseph Rudolph Jones is remembered as one of the most innovative drummers in jazz, particularly in the area of bebop. To avoid being mistaken for Count Basie's most famous drummer, "Papa Jo" Jones, he dubbed himself "Philly Joe" after his hometown of Philadelphia. In a Musician tribute, Chip Stern wrote, "Philly Joe was a consummate student of drum history; an urbane and witty man, knowledgeable and well-read. And on the drums, in a word, slick."
Jones was born on July 15, 1923. His musical training, part of a family tradition, began at an early age. "Drums have always been my choice of instrument," he explained to Modern Drummer's Rick Mattingly. "I had an opportunity to pick several instruments because my maternal grandmother made all of her daughters take music, and [they] really got into it deeply." Jazz heritage played a key role in Jones's musical life as well. He was inspired by classic swing drummers like Baby Dodds, Sid Catlett, and Chick Webb. Throughout his career, he continually revisited these idols' music and reflected upon it. "If any drummer tells me he can't go back and listen to Chick and Dave Tough and Baby and Sid ... [or tells] me that's not drums, I'll break up the drums and forget it!" he told Down Beat writer Ralph J. Gleason.
Jones's drumming aspirations were interrupted between 1941 and 1947 by his engagement in the army. Soon after leaving the service, he moved to New York City and joined Joe Morris's rhythm and blues band, which featured up-and-comers like Johnny Griffin on tenor sax, pianist Elmo Hope, and bassist Percy Heath. One night during his stint with Morris, Baby Dodds was playing in a club across the street. Philly Joe reminisced in a Down Beat interview, "I went into the Onyx, and Baby was playing in there with a bass drum, and a snare drum, and one cymbal.... He was swingin' so much I was late an entire set!"
Early in the 1950s Jones became one of the most sought-after session drummers. He joined Duke Ellington's Orchestra in 1952, but he left that organization to concentrate on studio work rather than touring. As he told Modern Drummer's Mattingly, "Playing with Duke was an honor, but I thought it would be better for me to stay in New York and play and make records with all the different giants."
In 1954 Jones began his fruitful association with Miles Davis. Both men held each other in high regard. In his autobiography, Davis said of Jones, "Philly Joe was the fire that was making a lot of [things] happen. See, he knew everything I was going to do, everything I was going to play; he anticipated me, felt what I was thinking.... Philly Joe was the kind of drummer I knew my music had to have." In an interview with Down Beat's Gleason, Jones displayed a similar attitude about Davis, remarking, "The greatest experience of my life was with Miles, of course.... I could get with Miles and go into anything, just like he does with me.... He would know the amount of time that I had to be playing, and I'd come out right, and it would bring him right back, and he'd come right back where I was ... and it was always beautiful."
The Miles Davis Quintet, featuring saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones on drums is considered Davis's "classic" quintet. In Jazz on Record, Brian Priestley asserted, "The musicians in this henceforth legendary quintet exerted an enormous influence in the coming years--not only John Coltrane ... but Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers immediately became the most in-demand drummer and bassist for free-lance recording sessions."
Despite their close friendship, Davis fired Jones in 1957. A heroin habit was making the drummer unreliable. Jones eventually kicked his habit, though. He later put his problem in perspective in Down Beat, commenting, "Well, that was a phase of my life. Fortunately for me, I wasn't playing bad when I was getting high.... But I feel now that I would have played better, and I think that I'm playing better today than I've ever played."
During the 1950s and 1960s Jones recorded several albums as a leader. He nonetheless continued session work for other musicians, especially those recording for the Riverside label, for which he practically became the house drummer. In a 1959 Down Beat feature, Riverside owner Orrin Keepnews attested, "[Philly Joe] has appeared on our LPs more than any other drummer and mostly because leaders ask for him or assume they'll get him. And he's wonderful at a session. He has the knack of knowing how to play for whatever we're doing."
Jones moved to London during the late 1960s. But because English union laws kept him from playing there, he relocated to Paris. He left Paris and returned to the United States in 1972. Still, he would visit Europe regularly for the rest of his life. He told Modern Drummer contributor Mattingly, "I enjoy playing in Europe more than I do playing the States. The people over there are better recipients of the music--they love it and they come out. If you open in a club there, that club will be crowded every night."
During the early 1980s Jones fulfilled one of his life's ambitions by forming Dameronia, a repertory group dedicated to the music of his former associate, arranger Tadd Dameron. According to The Penguin Guide to Jazz, Dameron's compositions "[combine] the broad-brush arrangements of the big band and the advanced harmonic language of bop." Dameronia, which consisted of musicians who had worked with Dameron, released two critically acclaimed albums, one after the death of Jones.
Jones died on August 30, 1985, at the age of 62. The body of work he left behind includes his contributions to more than 500 albums. He never stopped playing. Jones explained in Modern Drummer, "I feel good when I hear people go out saying, 'Man, I really enjoyed myself tonight.'... It is profound fulfillment to know that you are contributing to someone's happiness--even your own."
by Jim Powers
Philly Joe Jones's Career
Played professionally in Philadelphia, c. 1947; toured and recorded with rhythm and blues bands led by Joe Morris, Bull Moose Jackson, and Tiny Grimes, late 1940s; member of Tadd Dameron's band; 1951-53; member of Duke Ellington Orchestra, 1952; member of Miles Davis Quintet, 1954-57; leader and session player, 1958-85; wrote pamphlet "Brush Artistry" for Premier Drum Co., 1969; led bands Le Grand Prix, 1972-75, and Dameronia, 1981-85.
- Selective Works
- (With Miles Davis), Cookin', Prestige, 1956.
- (With Davis), Relaxin', Prestige, 1956.
- (With Davis), Workin', Prestige, 1956.
- (With Davis), Steamin', Prestige, 1956.
- (With Davis), Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, Prestige, 1956.
- (With Davis), Round about Midnight, Columbia, 1956.
- (With Sonny Rollins), Tenor Madness, Prestige, 1956.
- (With John Coltrane), Blue Trane, Blue Note, 1957.
- (With Nat Adderley and Johnny Griffin) Blues for Dracula, Riverside/OJC, 1958.
- (With Davis) Milestones, Columbia, 1958.
- (With Davis and Coltrane), Miles & Coltrane, Columbia, 1959.
- (With Davis), Porgy and Bess, Columbia, 1959.
- (With Art Pepper), Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, 1959.
- Showcase, Riverside, 1959.
- Drums around the World, Riverside, 1959.
- Mo'Joe, Black Lion, 1968.
- The Big Beat, Milestone.
- Philly Joe's Beat, Atlantic.
- Trailways Express, Black Lion.
- (With Elvin Jones) Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones Together, Atlantic.
- (With Freddie Hubbard) Goin Up, Blue Note.
- (With Donald Byrd) The Cat Walk, Blue Note.
- (With Bill Evans) Bill Evans, Milestone.
- (With Jackie McLean) Jackie's Bag, Blue Note.
- (With Kenny Durham) Whistle Stop, Blue Note.
- (With Bud Powell) Time Waits, Blue Note.
- Balliett, Whitney, The Sound of Surprise, Dutton, 1959.
- Cole, Bill, Miles Davis: A Musical Biography, Morrow, 1974.
- Cook, Richard, and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz, Penguin, 1994.
- Davis, Miles, with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
- Long, Daryl, Miles Davis for Beginners, Writers and Readers, 1992.
- Priestley, Brian, Jazz on Record, Billboard, 1991.
- Taylor, Arthur, Notes and Tones, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1977.
- Periodicals Down Beat, September 19, 1957; March 5, 1959; March 3, 1960 (article reprinted, November 1994); March 30, 1961; September 9, 1976; December 1985.
- Jazz Journal International, November 1985.
- Jazz Review, February 1959.
- Modern Drummer, February/March 1982.
- Musician, December 1985.
- New Yorker, November 4, 1985.