COUNT BASIE: A great drummer can mean everything to a band. Harold Jones has really pulled us together.
LOUIS BELLSON: Harold Jones was Count Basie's favorite drummer.
BILL COSBY: Harold is a master of mind, hands, feet and touch. His playing is very delicate, like handling the very finest crystal and china and when he is done, there's no damage.
NATALIE COLE: Harold is one of the best jazz drummers in the world.
NANCY WILSON: When I speak of my "Gentlemen" I am referring to a select group of super-talented musicians with whom I have had the good fortune to work. Harold was a treasured member of my trio in the mid-70's, a class act both as a musician and a man. I commend him as one of my gentlemen.
JON HENDRICKS: Harold always pulled the band back of us singers. Harold always swings and he is a beautiful, sensitive cat.
GEORGE YOUNG: Playing with Harold is like taking a warm bath. All you have to do is lay back and enjoy the swinging feel of his playing.
JOHN BADESSA: Harold won the Downbeat International Award as the "Best New Artist and Big Band Drummer" in 1972. He has not relinquished his title. He is still the best big band drummer in the world.
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Read an Excerpt
Harold JonesThe Singer's Drummer
By Gil Jacobs Joe Agro
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Gil Jacobs and Joe Agro
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHarold in the Beginning
Born February 27, 1940 in Richmond, Indiana
The "Singer's Drummer" chronicles the "Music and Times of Harold Jones" an outstanding musician whose career spans the last five decades of jazz and big band swing music. This book highlights the career of Jones as he transcends into becoming the singer's drummer wherein he accompanied some of the most popular vocalists and entertainment legends of the past fifty years. Harold's life has been remarkable from the very beginning of his music career, and continues so even today.
Born in the small town of Richmond, Indiana, Harold was fortunate in having a series of exceptional music instructors to guide him. In fact, several other future jazz greats would also come from this same rural area which is a further testament to the musical education offered in this region. This is a tradition carried forward from the early 1900's when Richmond became a recording center for jazz musicians. As reported in Chapter 13, Richmond, Indiana is now being chronicled as the "Cradle of Recorded Jazz".
* * *
While Jay and Juanita, Harold's parents, were not in the music business they did produce two sons who made quite an impact.
The younger son, Melvyn "Deacon" Jones became famous for being the King of the Hammond B-3 Organ and touring with John Lee Hooker, the Father of the Blues, for seventeen years.
Harold has made his mark of fame many times over the past fifty plus years; most notably with Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Natalie Cole. And, there were many other highlights along the way to Harold becoming the singer's drummer.
Harold's dad was a maintenance worker at the local Perfect Circle Piston plant and he was also the custodian at Dennis Junior High School. In addition, he operated a car detailing business out of his home.
Working at Dennis Junior High School gave Jay access to contacts and information about the various music instructors in the area. This proved to be beneficial in guiding Harold in his quest for music education. The car detailing business also proved to be beneficial to Harold for it was there that he developed a friendship with Andy Simpkins. Andy and Harold would become close lifelong friends. Andy went on to be a bass player of some renown and would be instrumental in Harold joining the Sarah Vaughan trio some thirty years later.
Harold learned a good life's lesson while helping his dad perform his custodial duties. One day, when he was nine years old, Harold was operating the high pressure vacuum hose used to clean the stairs. The hose was heavy and the added high pressure made it difficult for the young boy to handle. "It was hard work" remembers Harold. When he complained to his dad, Jay responded, "I want you to see how hard it is now, so you won't want to do this when you get to be my age."
Harold's mother, Juanita, was a homemaker, until her husband died in 1956, and then she took over the maintenance job at the piston plant. Harold recalls working with his mother and noticing that she was doing a more thorough cleaning job than his father had been doing. This tweaked Harold's curiosity and when he asked his mother he learned another life's lesson, "It is always good to give more than what is required."
Harold took both of these lessons to heart. While he was never afraid of working hard, he steered away from physical hard work, in favor of working hard to improve his musical skills. And, he always gave more than what was expected as his career progressed. He lives by the creed to "Deliver more than what is promised".
Harold attended Garfield Elementary School which had a very good music curriculum. Don Schuerman was his first music teacher. Harold recalls when it came time to select an instrument all he had to do was circle the name of the one he wanted to play. But, at the time, Harold was having problems reading. He knew he wanted to play the trumpet and he circled an instrument that started with a "T". To his surprise, Mr. Schuerman later handed him a tuba which totally encompassed Harold's small frame. "Mr. Schuerman, that's not what I meant, I want to play the trumpet." And Harold remembers Schuerman's response till this day. "That's too bad because the tuba is a great instrument for black people because they tend to have thick lips and the tuba has the biggest mouth piece of all the instruments." Despite this logic, Harold still requested a trumpet only to find that there were no trumpets available. So Harold selected the drums, and what a monumental decision that turned out to be!
Harold learned his reading and spelling lessons very well. In his senior year in high school he finished number three in the school's spelling contest. He also finished in the top five in driver education. This was really important because he would be driving to lots of gigs in the towns and cities around Richmond and later Chicago.
Harold received important direction and lots of encouragement from his 7th, 8th and 9th grade music instructor, Mary Minnick. Ms. Minnick was the first instructor who identified Harold's perfect timing and rhythm. She was also the first one who advised him that he should not be a singing drummer. Sarah Vaughan would later concur with Minnick's assessments especially for the timing and rhythm and also for the singing.
From Garfield, Harold moved on to Hibberd Jr. High School which also was very big on students getting a good musical education. This is where he had his first drum instructor, Jack Kurkowski, who is credited with teaching Harold to read music. Harold says, "He learned to read music before he ever owned a set of drums." Harold was very well liked at Hibberd and he was elected the vice-president of his senior class. This was a unique accomplishment in that he was the first minority to be so honored.
He then entered Richmond High School where his musical education was furthered by Ben Graham, the band director, and Gary Berkhoff, the orchestra director. Graham was later replaced by Robert Carr who became very instrumental in helping Harold win his scholarship to the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.
Harold was a very good athlete. He played football, basketball and track in high school. He was also a member of the golf team, the chess club and the student council. When he was younger, he had pitched for his little league baseball team until his music lessons got in the way of baseball practice. His mom insisted that the music lessons came first. Not being able to attend all the practices, Harold went from being a starting pitcher to playing right field. Playing right field was not as glamorous as pitching so this pretty much turned him off baseball. Eventually all sports were put on the bench in favor of playing the drums. Harold did demonstrate his athletic skills when he won the Indiana State Yo-Yo Championship when he was 13!
While in high school, Harold played in every musical organization available; the marching band, the pep band, the dance band, the "Footlites" theater band, the orchestra and the concert band. Harold was part of a jazz trio that was formed from the Footlites band that included Larry Roan (g) and Sonny Foster (b). They played at several school functions.
Harold played the timpani in the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, directed by Manfred Bloom and Ben Graham. And he further enhanced his drumming skills by playing with as many different groups as he could during the day, at night and on weekends. He not only played in night clubs in the immediate Richmond area but would also venture out to the many surrounding towns and cities such as Indianapolis, Muncie, Dayton and Cincinnati.
David Dreyer, a longtime friend of Harold's, was the drum major in the Richmond High School Marching Band. He also played the flute and piccolo. David recalls Harold was appointed the Band Captain and said, "Harold had the kind of popularity that was normally reserved for the school's basketball players!" This was quite a compliment considering that the state of Indiana is "Basketball Crazy".
When Harold was a sophomore, he recalls a friendship that was initiated by an older student, Joe Hunt. Joe did not think it was cool to play in such venues as the marching, dance and pep bands, but he was very active in setting up jam sessions at school and playing paying gigs in night clubs. Harold happily recalls that "Whenever Joe Hunt (d) and Paul Plummer (ts) would get together to jam, a serious jazz statement was about to be made!"
One day, Hunt saw that Harold was sporting a new generation snare drum. Initially, to get his hands on the new drum, Joe took Harold under his wing and invited him to jam sessions. He later showed him the ropes for getting night club gigs and even gave Harold some overflow work. In return Harold allowed Joe to use his new snare drum.
Harold vividly remembers one night in 1955 when Paul Plummer and Joe Hunt picked him up on their way to a gig. Harold says, "These cats were real cool. They even wore sunglasses at night and gave every appearance of being tough guys. And, here they were openly crying because they had just heard that Charlie "Yardbird" Parker had died!"
This was very traumatic for a lot of jazz lovers and musicians around the world. Parker was only 34 years old yet had taken jazz to a whole new form. Miles Davis would one day summarize the history of jazz by simply saying "Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker".
Harold was too young to stay in the night clubs between sets; so he would retreat to the car and do his homework, while the other band members would head for the bar. Being a young teenager playing with much older musicians taught Harold a lesson in respecting the other musicians and working within their style and capabilities. This helped prepare him for joining the Count Basie Band where he would once again be the youngest member of the band. As Harold would later put it, "I did not want to be a threat to anyone or to run over anybody."
Among the many groups he played with was the John Pierce Jazz Band, which greatly influenced Harold towards jazz. He also played in David Baker's Big Band which aimed him towards swing. Being selected to play in Baker's band was an early indicator of how Harold's talent would lead him to be sought out by many other legendary musicians.
David Baker was another jazz luminary from the Indy area. Baker became the Music Director at Indiana University and from there he became very prominent in jazz education. He served on several Jazz advisory panels and boards including the Kennedy Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Baker has been awarded Lifetime Achievement, Hall of Fame recognition and numerous other prestigious awards for Jazz Education. In 2001, he was honored as an Indiana Living Legend! And as a teenager, Harold was invited to play in Baker's Big Band, amazing!
* * *
George Walker was a neighbor who would become a lifelong friend and a big fan of Harold's. George was three years older than Harold and had wheels so he could drive Harold to the local clubs such as Leo Ryan's PVI Club.
George also would motor to Indianapolis to visit the many jazz clubs along Indiana Avenue and adjoining neighborhoods. As David Baker later wrote in an essay entitled The Lost Jazz Shrines; "The decades of the 1940's and 1950's constituted a golden age of jazz in Indianapolis." This is where George became acquainted with Wes Montgomery, who was just beginning to be recognized as a great jazz guitarist. Somehow, George convinced Wes it would be worthwhile giving a young drummer from Richmond a chance to play in his group.
George made the arrangements and Harold's mother drove him to Indianapolis for his first gig with Wes Montgomery at the Hub-Bub Club. Harold was seated joining Wes Montgomery (g), Earl Van Riper (p) and Mingo Green on bass. But when Harold started his solo, Wes, Earl and Mingo walked off the stage leaving Harold in the spotlight. According to Walker, Harold did a twenty minute solo that set the whole crowd on fire! What a great portent for Harold's future!
Harold was invited back to play with the Wes Montgomery Trio many times. He played on Saturday nights throughout that summer and the next one too.
Many years later, around the year 2000, Harold hooked up again with Mingo Green when they played in the Indianapolis Jazz Festival.
* * *
Harold recalls Benny Barth (d) had a group called the Master Sounds in Indianapolis. The group included the Montgomery Brothers; Buddy on piano and vibes, Monk on bass and Wes on the guitar. The group was very good but critics said they sounded too much like the Modern Jazz Quartet. Harold disagrees with that assessment because the Modern Jazz Quartet did not have a guitar. However, they disbanded in 1961 and Wes and Monk went their separate ways.
Wes went on to become an all time great jazz guitarist. Monk migrated to Las Vegas and after awhile started a fund for musicians who were down and out or otherwise needed financial help. The irony is that Monk ended up in need himself.
Benny Barth is still performing today and has a jazz trio that plays around the Russian River area, in Northern California. He is billed as the "Silver Fox – Jazz Drummer". * * *
Harold took many trips to Indianapolis to play on weekends during the school year and in the summer in his high school years. He played in bands that were on stage between movies at the English, Indiana and Walker Theaters. Those were the days when you could view double feature movies with live entertainment between shows for just a quarter!
In Indianapolis, in addition to the Hub-Bub Club, Harold also played at the Cotton Club, the Pink Poodle, the Red Rooster, the Trianon Ballroom, George's Bar and the 500 Bar.
Harold joined Cal Collins (g) and Andy Simpkins (b) for some gigs in Muncie Indiana, near Ball State College. Collins would become an important jazz guitarist. He went on to play with Benny Goodman, Bill Evans, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Brown, Stan Getz and Mel Torme among others.
* * *
Walker remembers the time that his father took Harold to see the Count Basie Band at the Tivoli Theatre, in November of 1956. Harold was just sixteen and seeing the great Basie Band left an indelible impression on him. Of course, he could not have imagined that eleven years later he would be the drummer in this world renowned orchestra.
Playing at Leo Ryan's PVI Club was another big influence on Harold. The PVI Club was located on highway 40, which was one of the major east-to-west coast highways at that time. The club was located in Ohio, just across the Indiana line. It was a popular stop for music groups and bands traveling from Dayton to Indianapolis, with Richmond in between. Harold was the house drummer which allowed him to play with many of the bands coming through, such as Claude Thornhill and Eddie Heywood.
In spite of Ms. Mannick's advice, Harold did have a singing gig with the Roy Carter Band. He was fifteen years old when he sang "It's the Talk of the Town" while playing the drums. Roy Carter had a day job as a barber in Richmond. He was also well known for being quite the ladies man around town. Harold recalls looking around the room and seeing several of Roy's lady friends in the audience. He couldn't help but chuckle at the irony of singing this song for the band leader who was literally the talk of the town!
* * *
Harold remembers a very important jazz person from Richmond, Joyce Mendenhall, who was one of the first female band leaders. Joyce played the trumpet and she headed up a Dixie Land sextet. Harold played in her band and today says, "She was really ahead of her time." The group also included Bruce Reynolds (b) and Bobbie Teagarten (tp), a relative of Jack Teagarten.
Another early female leader in the music arena was jazz pianist Carol Lou Hedges. In 1956 and 1957, Harold joined Carol and her husband, John Hedges (b), in the Carol Lou Trio. Harold was introduced to the Hedges by Leo Ryan of the PVI Club.
Carol Lou patterned her piano playing after Gene Harris, her favorite pianist. Her considerable talent might have carried her to greater recognition, but she chose instead to raise a family and live quietly. She later remarried and as Carol Lou Woodard still resides in Richmond, Indiana and is still performing.
Excerpted from Harold Jones by Gil Jacobs Joe Agro Copyright © 2011 by Gil Jacobs and Joe Agro. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPreface by Paul Winter....................xix
Introduction by Joe Agro....................1
Back Home Again in Indiana 1940 – 1957....................5
Chapter 1 - Harold in the Beginning....................7
Chapter 2 - Getting Around....................23
Chapter 3 - Swinging In Chicago....................33
Chapter 4 - Really Swinging with Basie....................71
Chapter 5 - Swinging Out West....................109
Chapter 6 - The Unforgettable Ladies....................123
Chapter 7 - The Great Male Artists....................151
Chapter 8 – Harold Meets His Lady – Denise....................161
Chapter 9 - The Gene Harris Superband....................165
Chapter 10 - Swinging by the Golden Gate....................175
Chapter 11 - Touring with Tony Bennett....................187
Chapter 13 – Reminiscing and Random Thoughts....................213
Chapter 14- Harold Jones' Workshop....................237
Chapter 15 – Harold Jones Up To Now....................247
Chapter 16 – The Rewards....................267
Index – People, Places and Events....................279