Jonah Jones Collection – by Patrick Ranasinghe
Jonah Jones (born Robert Elliott Jones; December 31, 1909 – April 29, 2000) was a jazz trumpeter who created concise versions of jazz and swing and jazz standards that appealed to a mass audience. In the jazz community, he is known for his work with Stuff Smith. He was sometimes referred to as “King Louis II”, a reference to Louis Armstrong. Jones started playing alto saxophone at the age of 12 in the Booker T. Washington Community Center band in Louisville, Kentucky, before quickly transitioning to trumpet, where he excelled.
ones was born in Louisville, Kentucky, United States. An early music instructor stuttered when stating Jones’ surname, and so Jones became known as ‘Jonah’. He began his career playing on a river boat named Island Queen, which traveled between Kentucky and Ohio. He began in the 1920s playing on Mississippi riverboats and then, in 1928, he joined with Horace Henderson. Later he worked with Jimmie Lunceford and had an early collaboration with Stuff Smith in 1932. From 1932 to 1936, he had a successful collaboration with Smith, but in the 1940s he worked in big bands like Benny Carter’s and Fletcher Henderson’s. He would spend most of a decade with Cab Calloway’s band which later became a combo.
Starting in the 1950s, he had his own quartet and began concentrating on a formula which gained him wider appeal for a decade. The quartet consisted of George “River Rider” Rhodes on piano, John “Broken Down” Browne on bass and Harold “Hard Nuts” Austin on drums. The most-mentioned accomplishment of this style is their version of “On The Street Where You Live”, a strong-swinging treatment of the Broadway tune with a boogie-woogie jump blues feeling. This effort succeeded and he began to be known to a wider audience. This led to his quartet performing on An Evening With Fred Astaire in 1958, and an award at the Grammy Awards of 1960, receiving the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. In 1972, he made a return to more “core” jazz work with Earl Hines on the Chiaroscuro album Back On The Street. Jones enjoyed especial popularity in France, being featured in a jazz festival in the Salle Pleyel.
A 1996 videotaped interview completed by Dan Del Fiorentino was donated to the NAMM Oral History Program Collection in 2010 to preserve his music for future generations.
Jones performed in the orchestra pit under the direction of Alexander Smallens and briefly in an onstage musical sequence of Porgy and Bess, starring Cab Calloway.
He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1999 and died the following year in New York City, at the age of 90.