B: December 31, 1908, Louisville, KY
D: April 30, 2000, New York, NY
Jonah Jones, one of the nation's foremost trumpetmen played an integral part in the history of jazz, gave to the world a long list of recorded jazz. Dizzy Gillespie once recalled that Jonah told the history of jazz better than anyone, not only because he lived it, but because "when Jonah tells a story, he makes everybody sound so good!"
Jonah Jones was born Robert Elliott Jones in Louisville, Kentucky in
1908. He was infected with the music "itch" at the age of 11. He watched the
Booker T. Washington Community Center Band march through town as a boy and the
flashy trombones impressed him. The band's organizer gave him his chance, but
soon determined that Jones’arms were too short for trombone. "The Booker T.
Washington Band was where a lot of young kids learned to read music. Dicky
[Wells] and I both got our start there." Jonah also recalled in 1995 how he
acquired the nickname of Jonah:
"The conductor’s name was Lockwood Lewis and he always referred to us by our last name. Well, when he got excited he would stammer. So he put me in a big band of 10 and 11 year old boys. One day we were playing a march and I kept hitting the wrong note, but I didn’t know it. I was just so excited being in that band that I hit an E flat when I should have played an E natural. He rapped on his stand, ‘Someone is making the wrong note there, watch your part.’ Then we took the song down again, and I did the same thing. I didn’t know it was me making the wrong note. He got more excited and rapped on the stand and said, ‘Say, watch your part!’ Then the band tried the song for the third time and this time he caught my hand on the wrong note. He was so excited that when he went to say my last name, he stammered and said, ‘Ja-ja-ja-ja...Jonah, don’t you see that’s the wrong note?’ Well, all the fellows in the band started laughing and called me Jonah ever since!"
As a teen, Jonah led swinging jazz combos playing his stylish muted trumpet. He soon received his first professional job aboard a stern-wheeler riverboat on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers between Cincinnati and New Orleans. In 1928, he joined the Horace Henderson Band and two years later worked with Jimmie Lunceford.
In 1932, Jonah joined Stuff Smith, a swing violinist. It was this group of musicians that pioneered the turning of 52nd Street in New York into "Swing Street." "Stuff was a great teacher," recalled Jonah, "He showed most of Swing Street how to swing!" While working on 52nd Street, Jonah also worked with Lil Armstrong, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and Benny Carter. Jonah exuberantly recalled that "these bands played all over New York, but we never sounded better than when we played on 52nd Street!"
Cab Calloway recruited Jonah in 1941 and remained with him for eleven years. In 1943, the band recorded "Jonah Joins The Cab" which featured a terrific solo by Jonah. When Cab signed to play in "Porgy and Bess" he asked Jonah to play lead trumpet in the pit orchestra. He also did a bit part in the play.
Jonah worked extensively with a multitude of other note worthy personalities during the early 1950s after Cab Calloway disbanded, including Earl Hines, Joe Bushkin (1952) and Lional Hampton ("Drum Stomp" among others). In 1955 he formed a quartet which played at the Embers in New York. The quartet was asked to record a number of LP albums, including "On The Street Where You Live," "Baubles, Bangles and Beads." His modern jazz style led to top bookings and fast selling albums throughout most of the 50s. At the end of that decade he was awarded The Grammy for his album "I Dig Chicks" which was judged the best jazz group performance of 1958.
Jonah has appeared on TV including a special with Fred Astaire - "An Evening With Fred Astaire." This show was classed by many as one of the best in television history.
Playing for Royalty is nothing new for Jonah. He was invited to a Command Performance for Prince Ranier and Princess Grace in Monaco and so impressed the Prince he was persuaded to stay for two weeks to entertain at special events in the Monarchy. He has also entertained at the request of the King of Thailand for the opening of the Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok.
The 1960s, 70s and 80s were spent touring much of the world. Jonah Jones married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Bowles, an accomplished musician in trumpet, clarinet, and baritone horn. They had four children and moved to Greenwich Village, New York in the 1950s. Elizabeth died in 1993. Jonah remained a close friend to the creators of the database, offering wonderful stories until his death at the age of 91 in 2000. He is missed!
"Nobody could blow like Jonah!" ---Stanley Dance.
Chu Berry Cozy Cole Ben Webster Dizzy Gillespie Milton Hinton