Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Jones, Sam (Samuel)

Raw in emotion and sophisticated in his technique, bassist Sam Jones's strong sense of swing kept him in constant demand from the 1950s through the 1970s, alongside musicians such as alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, pianist Oscar Peterson. and as a leader. Jones was also one of the first to play the cello to the modern jazz ensemble.

Samuel Jones was born on Wednesday, November 12, 1924 in Jacksonville, Florida. Jones came of age in a musical family and began his first foray into music by playing the drums as a child. After switching to the guitar for a brief period, Sam decided to play the bass upon hearing Oscar Pettiford on a record. By the mid 1940s, he was gaining significant performance experience by touring throughout Florida with several bands.

Shortly after, Jones became a member of the band the Honeydrippers alongside pianist Ray Charles. Sam eventually formed a bebop ensemble that imitated the alto saxophone/trumpet construction that was made famous by the Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie ensemble. Around this time, he began to play with Cannonball Adderley, which became a fruitful and long-lasting association.

Jones continued to perform with several groups including the band of saxophonist Paul Williams. On July 25, 1951, Sam made his first recordings as a musician with Williams in New York. After a short stint in Cincinnati, Sam toured with vocalist Tiny Bradshaw from 1953 until 1955. Afterwards, he relocated to New York City.

Upon moving to New York City, Jones began to perform and record with several luminaries of the jazz scene including trumpeter Kenny Dorham, with whom he recorded the album Kenny Dorham’s Jazz Prophets Vol. 1 on April 4, 1956. In December of the same year, he performed with Adderley at the KNBC-TV “Stars of Jazz” program in Burbank, California.

Jones performed on numerous Riverside and Blue Note albums where he was their house bassist. In 1957, Sam performed with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and in the following year he began a yearlong association with Gillespie. In 1958 alone, he performed with trumpeter Chet Baker and guitarist Kenny Burrell. After a year with Gillespie, he began to perform with pianist Thelonious Monk.

In February 1958, Jones performed with singer Betty Carter on her album Out There With Betty Carter. On March 9, 1958, Sam performed with Adderley on his album Somethin’ Else. The album featured the musical talents of pianist Hank Jones, drummer Art Blakey and trumpeter Miles Davis. The ensemble is especially noteworthy on the album’s opening track, “Autumn Leaves.”

The song begins with a one bar phrase that Jones repeats while Adderley and Davis perform over it. The phrase seques into the verse with Sam performing a two-feel while Davis performs the melody. Beginning with Adderley’s solo, Davis begins to play a walking bassline, which adds a stronger sense of harmony to the arrangement. Sam showcases his expertise as an accompanist by constantly listening to the soloist at hand and choosing the most suitable notes and ornamentations to enhance their performance.

On December 15, 1958, Jones recorded with pianist Bill Evans on his album Everybody Digs Bill Evans. A shining example of Sam’s contributions to the album is the song “Young and Foolish.” Jones maintains the ballad tempo by adhering to a half note rhythmic design and adding subtle articulations to break up the pace. Along with drummer Philly Joe Jones, Sam increases the romantic sentiment of the piece by fully facilitating the rhythmic aspect of the song and allowing Evans to fully shine as a melodicist. Though minimal in its execution, Jones’ performance speaks volumes on the capabilities of using space to expand on the performance of a soloist.

On April 17, 1959, Jones appeared on pianist Red Garland’s album Red In Bluesville along with drummer Art Taylor. A prime example of Sam’s contributions to the album is the composition “He’s A Real Gone Guy.” The up-tempo number exhibits Jones’ perfection within the blues idiom. Sam expertly utilizes the entire register of the bass resulting in a larger sonic palette. During his solo, he effortlessly fills his time with inspired blues riffs and brief melodic fragments.

Beginning in November 1959, Jones became a full time member of Adderley’s group and truly began to establish himself as one of the premiere bassists of his generation. Along with drummer Louis Hayes, Sam formed one of the most solid rhythm sections in all of modern jazz. With Adderley, he contributed to his repertory with the songs “Del Sasser” and ”Unit 7.”

The following year, Jones recorded the album The Soul Society, his debut album as a leader for Riverside Records. The album also featured his abilities on the cello, an instrument he would incorporate into his repertoire throughout his career. The same year, Sam performed with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on his album Open Sesame and with guitarist Wes Montgomery on his album Movin’ Along.

In January 1961, Jones recorded his second album The Chant with a band that included pianist Wynton Kelly and trumpeter Blue Mitchell. With Adderley, Jones appeared on the television show Jazz Casual in 1963 and in the following year appeared on the British television show Jazz 625. In 1965, he performed with Cannonball on the album Radio Nights, an album that was part of a radio broadcast live from the Half Note club in New York.

In 1966, Jones replaced Ray Brown in Oscar Peterson’s trio where he would remain until 1970. On March 26, 1966, Sam performed with Peterson at the 11th Annual San Remo Jazz Festival in Italy. The concert was recorded and was released as the Peterson album Canadian Giant. The following year, he performed with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

In April 1968, Jones appeared with Peterson on the album Mellow Mood, which was recorded in Villingen, Germany. Throughout 1968 until 1970, Sam performed prolifically with Peterson as well as bassist Bill Lee’s New York Bass Violin Choir. On August 27, 1970, he recorded on tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s album Jumpin’ Blues. The following year, Jones performed on albums with Red Garland and tenor saxophonist James Moody.

In the early 1970s, Jones worked with pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Billy Higgins in a group that included tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. By 1972, Sam formed a trio with Walton and Higgins and appeared on Walton’s album Breakthrough. Two years later, he performed with a string quartet in Tokyo and in 1976 he recorded as a co-leader with bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen on the album Double Bass. During this time Jones was spending a great deal of time recording and performing in Europe.

In 1977, Jones performed with flugelhorn player Art Farmer and alto saxophonist Jackie McLean in Tokyo. In September 13, 1977, Sam recorded his album Something In Common with a band that included tenor saxophonist Bob Berg. The following year, he recorded the album Visitation with the title track showcasing his talents as a cellist. A few years before his death, Jones led a big band with trumpeter Tom Harrell, which recorded in 1979.

The same year, Jones recorded with Harrell in New York with a quintet led by pianist Rein de Graaff. Sam’s last release as a leader was 1979’s Something New, an album featuring his twelve-piece big band. In June 1980, Sam performed at Carnegie Hall and in February 1981, he recorded with the New York Jazz Quartet. During his late career, he suffered from lung cancer, which forced him to retire from actively performing.

On December 15, 1981, Jones passed away in New York City at the age of fifty-seven.

Select Discography

As a leader

The Soul Society (1960)

The Chant (1961)

Something in Common (1977)

Visitation (1978)

Something New (1979)

With Cannonball Adderley

Somethin’ Else (1958)

Radio Nights (1965)

With Betty Carter

Out There With Betty Carter (1958)

With Kenny Dorham

Kenny Dorham’s Jazz Prophets Vol. 1 (1956)

With Bill Evans

Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1958)

With Red Garland

Red In Bluesville (1959)

With Dexter Gordon

Jumpin’ Blues (1970)

With Freddie Hubbard

Open Sesame (1960)

With Wes Montgomery

Movin’ Along (1960)

With Oscar Peterson

Canadian Giant (1966)

Mellow Mood (1968)

With Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen

Double Bass (1976)

With Cedar Walton

Breakthrough (1972)

Contributor: Eric Wendell