Hank Jones in 2009.
"Speak Low" (Ogden Nash, Kurt Weill)
"Lady Luck" (Thad Jones, Frank Wess)
"Favors" (Klaus Ogermann)
"Interlude" (JJ Johnson)
"Blue Monk" (Thelonious Monk)
"Round Midnight" (Bernard Hanighen, Monk, Cootie Williams)
Hank Jones, piano
John Clayton, bass
Dennis Mackrel, drums
Hank Jones was born on July 31, 1918, in Vicksburg, Miss., and grew up north of Detroit in Pontiac, Mich. His family was large, loving and religious. Five years behind Hank, brother Thad Jones was born; a few years after Thad, brother Elvin. All three Jones Brothers made magnificent contributions to jazz. Hank lived the longest; he died on May 16, 2010.
Following his death, one of the best tributes was the May 17 re-airing of a conversation between Jones and Terry Gross on Fresh Air. And before this May 2, 1998, performance in from the Gilmore Festival in Kalamazoo, Jones sat down and answered some questions from JazzSet.
He told us that his first tour outside the U.S. took him to Europe in 1948 or '49 with Jazz at the Philharmonic. In 1956, he went to Thailand with Benny Goodman on a State Department tour. Goodman was "a very strict leader, an excellent musician." In that era, Jones was freelance, which he described like this: "A contractor calls you up and says, 'Are you free on Thursday?' Well, I'm not free, but I'm reasonable."
Host Dee Dee Bridgewater adds, "That is so Hank Jones."
Through the 1960s, he was one of the first African-Americans — if not the first — to be employed as a staff musician at a network, CBS. In the 1970s revue Ain't Misbehavin', he played Fats Waller's piano parts onstage on Broadway. In the 1990s, Jones worked regularly in Japan, and was featured on wonderful albums from the Verve label — hymns with bassist Charlie Haden, a blend of African music and jazz with musicians from Mali. When he turned 90, Jones told Jazz Times that all he hoped for was to make each performance better than the previous one. He practiced his scales and arpeggios until he died. You can hear it in his keyboard clarity.
Take our web-only extra, "Round Midnight," for example. Each phrase of the melody launches with four pick-up notes. Jones articulates and voices every set of pick-ups differently — off the cuff, but accurate. It's a piano lesson.
For this night at Rose Street Market, bassist George Mraz wasn't available, so John Clayton got the call. After the show, Clayton told JazzSet, "Hank plays a lot of bass notes in his left hand, but I don't feel like I'm getting in his way. I can't explain that." Dennis Mackrel, Jones' regular drummer, said, "Even if I do something wrong, Hank has a talent; he's always looking the other way."
Thanks to Dan Gustin, Director of The Gilmore. Recording by Duke Markos with Michael Packer, Kevin Brown, Brian Drewes, and Curt Pruett.