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Jazz Profiles from NPR
The Jones Brothers
Produced by Ben Shapiro

Hank Jones  

The Jones Brothers are among the first families of jazz. Pianist and composer Hank Jones (pictured), the late trumpeter and composer Thad Jones, and drummer Elvin Jones have all made lasting impressions on their respective instruments and on jazz's expansive soundscape.

Listen to saxophonist Frank Foster talk about The Jones Brothers

Hank, Thad, and Elvin Jones grew up in Pontiac, Mich., about 25 miles from Detroit. They were three of 10 siblings. Their mother used to encourage her children to listen to and play classical music, while their father emphasized the music of the African-American church.

Listen to Hank reflect on his parents' musical ideals

Hank Jones' playing spans much of the history of jazz piano, from the stride masters Art Tatum and Fats Waller to the modern jazz innovators of today. His playing combines an almost classical sense of design with a wide expressive range and a lively touch.

Listen to Hank recall the first time he heard Art Tatum

While in his teens, Hank and younger brother Thad became a part of Detroit's illustrious jazz scene that included Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, and many others. Hank moved to New York City in 1943 and quickly immersed himself into the bebop scene on 52nd Street, playing with innovators such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

For many years, Hank was an accompanist and studio player of the highest caliber working with everyone from Bing Crosby to Glen Campbell. In the 1970s and 1980s, he continued to work in various solo and small ensembles, producing numerous recordings under his own name, and gaining worldwide acclaim.

Thad Jones  

Thad Jones (left) had a remarkable multifaceted career as a bebop trumpeter, cornetist, composer, arranger, and bandleader for various large ensembles. He was a member of Count Basie's Orchestra from nearly 10 years and wrote many of their classic arrangements.

Listen to Hank talk about Thad's musical talents

After Thad left Count Basie's Orchestra, he asked Max Gordon, owner of The Village Vanguard if he would be interested in a big band consisting of some of New York City's finest players. Gordon offered him a regular Monday night spot for the band, and with the help of drummer Mel Lewis, The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra was born.

Listen to pianist Roland Hanna and Foster describe Thad's bandleader skills

Elvin Jones  

Building on the brilliant innovators of the bop drummers like Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, Elvin Jones took jazz drumming to another level. By moving the time-keeping function from the hi-hat and cymbal to a hard swinging pulse, he produced a sound unprecedented in jazz.

Listen to Elvin tell what first attracted him to drums

Elvin's brilliance was a key aspect of one of the greatest jazz ensembles, the John Coltrane Quartet. When he joined Coltrane in 1960, his incendiary polyrhythms and percussive attacks matched the intensity of Coltrane's improvisations.

Listen to pianist McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones talk about their time with John Coltrane

After Thad Jones left the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band in 1978, he moved to Europe and led the Danish Radio Orchestra. In 1985, after Count Basie's death, he led that organization. Unfortunately, Thad died a year later. Hank and Elvin, though, are alive and still thriving as living jazz legends.

Listen to Elvin, Hank, and Thad impart wisdom on being an artist


View The Jones Brothers show playlist


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