Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones

Overview

Finalist for Best Jazz Book of the Year Award from the Jazz Journalists Association

The things that I have, I’ll give to you. This is my legacy with you, Albert. This is my last hoo-rah.
So begins the autobiography of Jonathan David Samuel Jones—or as the world better knows him, Papa Jo Jones. Playing with Count Basie and his orchestra when they exploded out of Kansas City in 1936 and took the world by storm,...

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Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones

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Overview

Finalist for Best Jazz Book of the Year Award from the Jazz Journalists Association

The things that I have, I’ll give to you. This is my legacy with you, Albert. This is my last hoo-rah.
So begins the autobiography of Jonathan David Samuel Jones—or as the world better knows him, Papa Jo Jones. Playing with Count Basie and his orchestra when they exploded out of Kansas City in 1936 and took the world by storm, Jones went on to inspire generations of jazz drummers, but until now few have had access to his own remarkable story.

Rifftide presents Jones’s inimitable life and opinions, as originally told by Jones to the prominent jazz historian and novelist Albert Murray and now transcribed, arranged, and introduced by Paul Devlin. Drawn from fourteen tapes recorded over eight years beginning in 1977, Rifftide is an impressionistic series of riffs and tales by Jones: his life as a musician on the road in segregated America, his outstanding solo career following his years with the Basie band, and his interactions with iconic artists and cultural figures of the time, including Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Satchell Paige.

A true American original and jazz luminary, Papa Jo Jones bedazzled and intrigued many with his outrageous, volatile personality and his innovative drumming—and nowhere does his fierce intellect and humor shine more marvelously than in his life’s telling. With a fascinating introduction and annotations by Paul Devlin and an afterword by Phil Schaap, jazz historian and longtime friend of Jones, Rifftide reveals a man at the forefront of both a whole new form of music and a country in the midst of incredible turmoil and opportunity. As Jones himself puts it: Listen man, I’ve had a hell of a time . . .

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Jo Jones, an elegant, swinging dude, always had a style of his own. When he was with us, you could hear him, feel him—everything was right there." —Count Basie

"I first met Jo Jones at the RKO Theater in Boston when I was a teenager in the early 1940s and we were friends until he passed away. He was my first influence and my major influence. He was ‘Papa’ Jo to me before they gave him that title. He was like a father to me. For drummers of my generation, Jo was the president of the drums just like Lester Young was president of the tenor saxophone. Jo loved to talk, and when he spoke it was almost as if he was playing the drums: you’d give him your undivided attention. Rifftide conveys a fine sense of his voice and the larger than life dimensions of his personality." —Roy Haynes

"Albert Murray has helped keep the incomparable Jo Jones alive through the voice of Count Basie in Good Morning Blues and fictionally in The Magic Keys, but in Rifftide, thanks to the persistence of editor Paul Devlin, we get to hear Jo himself in all his dynamic, adrenalized, anecdotal, no-bull glory—riffing with words as heartily as he did on the hi-hat." —Gary Giddins, author of Warning Shadows and Jazz

"Rifftide is a gem of a book about one of the forgotten founding fathers of Swing. Jo Jones was more than a jazz genius—he was also one of the great characters and chroniclers of American life during the Swing Era. Based on extensive oral interviews and years of painstaking research, Rifftide is a terrific source not only for students of jazz, but also American history, African-American studies, linguistics, and sociology." —Debby Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

"Papa Jo Jones is Brer Rabbit with a drum kit and opposable thumbs. In his own spellbinding voice, musical history and philosophy come alive on the page." —Mat Johnson, author of Pym

"With a pronounced irascible streak to match his heterodox approach to drumming, Papa Jo Jones (1911-85) was an ideal candidate to star in the kind of book that delights jazz fans: the straight-talking, defiantly espousing firsthand record. Anyone interested in authenticity of voice is going to be on the verge of fist-pumping the air throughout, or else exclaiming, ‘You tell it like it is, baby,’ as if partaking in a call-and-response with the book." —The New York Times

"Devlin does the rare work of presenting the intersection of musicianship and folklore in a volume that belongs in any serious jazz or African American culture collection." —Library Journal

"It is a very entertaining, thought provoking, and insightful read in better understanding such a burning talent and innovator. This is Papa Jo Jones, an American original through his riffing and unvarnished commentary on life and music." —JazzTimes Magazine

"Rifftide is rife with stories of musical ingenuity amid the racial strife of the swing era and beyond." —The Root

"Rifftide is an easy, fun read that I'll keep returning to." —Ethan Iverson

Library Journal
By doctoral student Devlin's own admission, this book is the Finnegans Wake of jazz memoirs; attempting to read it without constantly referring to the editor's notes is futile. Jones, Count Basie's mercurial and prolific drummer, sat down with jazz historian/novelist Murray (Stomping the Blues) to provide background for Count Basie's autobiography, Good Morning Blues. The resulting 14 hours of tape, while short on objective history, reveal a storyteller equal to Zora Neale Hurston. Devlin does an admirable job of organizing and annotating the material so that it gives one the impression of hearing Jones spin his tales in his own percussive and discursive style. Non sequiturs vastly outnumber relevant remarks, and Jones paints himself as the hero of a show business saga wherein he invents modern jazz drumming, makes every major artistic and financial decision for the Basie organization, and knocks out a Philadelphia policeman with one punch. VERDICT There are a lot of books that document this period with an admirable degree of accuracy, e.g., Good Morning Blues. Devlin does the rare work of presenting the intersection of musicianship and folklore in a volume that belongs in any serious jazz or African American culture collection.—John Frank, Los Angeles P.L.
Colin Fleming
Anyone interested in authenticity of voice is going to be on the verge of fist-pumping the air throughout…this tough but charming little book.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816673018
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 9/21/2011
  • Pages: 200
  • Sales rank: 1,385,142
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Papa Jo Jones (1911–1985) was one of the most influential jazz drummers of all time. He played with Count Basie and his orchestra from 1936 until he entered the army in 1944, and again from 1946 to 1948. He also played on Billie Holiday’s early records. From the late forties on, Jones had a spectacular solo career, playing with Jazz at the Philharmonic and the Newport Jazz Festival, recording under his own name, and playing on albums by Duke Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, and many others.

Albert Murray was a cofounder of Jazz at Lincoln Center. His many books include Train Whistle Guitar and Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie.

Paul Devlin is a doctoral student in the English Department at Stony Brook University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Slate, the Root, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.

Phil Schaap has broadcast jazz on New York City’s WKCR for more than forty years. He taught at Princeton University and currently teaches at Julliard. He is the curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Editor’s Preface

Introduction: The Musical Life of Papa Jo Jones Paul Devlin

Rifftide

I Have Had a Varied Life Can’t Nobody Tell Me One Inch about Show Business The Count Basie Institution They Said the Negro Would Never Be Free My Thirst after Knowledge Will Never Cease People I’ve Rubbed Elbows With I Often Wondered Why I Was Such a Strange Fella

Afterword: The Persistence of Papa Jo Jones Phil Schaap

Editor’s Notes Index

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