Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Sirone (Norris Sirone Jones)
Bassist Sirone’s expressive lyricism, formidable tone and exemplary technique highlight the importance of musicianship in avant-garde and free jazz. Known for his work with the Revolutionary Ensemble, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Cecil Taylor amongst others, Sirone's playing has displayed the breadth of complexity and style the bass can achieve in modern jazz.
Norris Sirone Jones was born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 28, 1940. Sirone’s first foray into music was playing the trombone in his high school band. Though he was eventually kicked out of his high school band, he switched to the bass at the age of seventeen and set his sights on a career in music. Beginning in 1957, he performed throughout Atlanta with The Group, an ensemble that featured tenor saxophonist George Adams.
In 1965, Sirone moved to New York City where he co-founded the group the Untraditional Jazz Improvisational Team with pianist Dave Burrell. The following year, he recorded with alto saxophonist Marion Brown on his albums Why Not? and Three For Shepp. Sirone ended the year with a live concert at Town Hall with Brown, Burrell, drummer Beaver Harris, and tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin.
Towards the the end of the 1960s, Sirone’s popularity as a sideman began to increase. In 1966, Sirone recorded with trumpeter Ric Colbeck where he received the opportunity to perform with Maupin, drummer Sunny Murray, guitarist Sonny Sharrock and multi-instrumentalist Byard Lancaster.
In 1967, Sirone performed with tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri on the album In Search of the Mystery. A highlight of the album is the twenty-one minute track “Obsession No. 2/Cinemateque.” Recorded with cellists Calo Scott and drummer Bobby Kapp, the odd instrumentation of the quartet results in a haunting and exciting song.
The song begins with Barbieri performing with a burst of sound that bleeds into the verse. Sirone begins playing a countermelody that both blends rhythmically with the drums as well as melodically with the cello. Throughout the song’s alternating textures and soundscapes, Sirone demonstrates independence in the cacophony of sound while being securely anchored in the loose time that it adheres to.
In 1968, Sirone’s profile in the New York jazz community continued to rise with recording sessions with Dave Burrell and Sonny Sharrock. In 1968, he recorded with Burrell on his album High Won-High Two and 1969 alone saw Sirone recording with Sharrock on his album Black Woman, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders’ Izipho Zam and alto saxophonist Noah Howard’s The Black Ark.
Beginning in 1971, Sirone became a member of the Revolutionary Ensemble, which he co-founded with drummer Frank Clayton and violinist Leroy Jenkins. The band was one of the few free-jazz ensembles that did not feature any horns and were mostly driven by strings. The group appeared at festivals, clubs, colleges and in the occasional museum.
The following year, Sirone performed with trumpeter Clifford Thornton at the New York City Festival of African-American Music alongside violinist Lakshminarayana Shankar and poet Jayne Cortez. The music was recorded and released as Communication Network the same year under Thornton’s name.
On December 31, 1972, the Revolutioanary Ensemble released their debut album Manhattan Cycles. Recorded for the India Navigation label, the album featured two extended pieces, each encompassing one side on an album. The following year saw Sirone performing on tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman’s The Ear of the Behearer, pianist Cecil Taylor’s Spring of Two Blue J’s and trombonist Roswell Rudd’sNumatik Swing Band.
1973 also saw the Revolutionary Ensemble performing at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. The following year, Sirone began an association with alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman. He performed with the saxophonist on the albums In Concert, a live album recorded in New York City and on Lonely Woman Quartet ‘74, which was recorded in Italy. On both releases, Sirone performed with guitarist and future collaborator James “Blood” Ulmer and drummer Billy Higgins.
In December 1975, the Revolutionary Ensemble released The People’s Republic, on trumpeter Herb Alpert’s A&M label. An anecdote surfaced after its release that Alpert played the record for producer Quincy Jones during a dinner party. As the story goes, Jones was so upset by what he heard that he told Alpert the record could not even be considered music.
The Revolutionary Ensemble quickly followed up with Psyche, released the same year on the band’s own RE label. The ensemble parted ways in 1977 after a final performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. Sirone spent the rest of the late 1970s performing with Cecil Taylor.
In April 1978, Sirone joined Taylor and saxophonist Jimmy Lyons,trumpeter Raphe Malik, violinist Ramsey Ameen and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson to record the album Cecil Taylor Unit for the New World label. The album is a tour de force in long form improvisation comprising of three songs over the span of sixty minutes. The group’s long form improvisations are best captured on the album’s opening song “Idut"
The song is a celebration of free jazz, with each instrument of the sextet providing an original voice. Sirone plays consistently low, short phrases in order to stick out from the more uneven performances of the rest of the ensemble. The result of Sirone’s evocative style and low timbre is a more cohesive design that hints to an overall form to the piece.
On July 5, 1978, Sirone released Artistry, his debut album as a leader. Released on the Of The Cosmos label, the album featured flutist James Newton, cellist Muneer Abdul Fatah and percussionist Famoudou Don Moye. On September 19, 1981, The Revolutionary Ensemble reunited for a performance at the Public Theater in New York.
In 1985, Sirone participated in director Ebba Jahn’s documentary Rising Tones Cross. The film is about the jazz scene in New York City up until that point. The film also features such downtown luminaries such as alto saxophonist John Zorn, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and trumpeter Don Cherry.
In April 1984, Sirone became a member of the band Phalanx alongside George Adams, James Blood Ulmer and drummer Rashied Ali. The group performed together for several years before recording the album Original Phalanx in 1987 followed up by 1988’s In Touch. The group, however, did not last long and decided to disband that same year.
In the late 1980s, Sirone decided to move to Germany upon receiving a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service, an organization that offers merit-based grants to use toward study and research at German institutions of higher education. Though his grant only lasted a year, he decided to stay in Germany afterwards because of the opportunities he would have to compose and perform.
After the dissolution of Phalanx, Sirone recorded the albums Always Born and Homeless with tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle. In the late 1980s, Sirone began to perform with the Unity Ensemble in Vienna with trombonist Konrad Bauer and pianist Ulrich Gumpert. In 1988, he appeared on violinist Billy Bang’s album Valve, No.10 alongside tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe and drummer Dennis Charles.
In April 1990, Sirone performed in the play Streetlife, which he wrote and composed with in collaboration with his wife Veronika Nowag-Jones. The play told the story of an immigrant and a down and out musician. The same year, he performed with multi-instrumentalist Peter Gordon on his album Leningrad-Xpress.
In the summer of 1991, the Revolutionary Ensemble reunited for a single performance at the Nickelsdorf Jazz Festival in Austria. On April 3, 1993, he performed with Cecil Taylor during the Free Music Workshop in Berlin, Germany. The result was the album Always A Pleasure, which featured contributions from Jimmy Lyons, Raphe Malik, soprano saxophonist Harri Sjostrom, cellist Tristan Honsiger and drummer Rashid Baker.
In the late 1990s, Sirone began to perform in New York including stops at the noted club Tonic. In June 2003, Sirone recorded the album Sirone’s Concord with saxophonist Ben Abarbanel, violinist Ulli Bartel and drummer Maurice de Martin. In 2004 on the occasion the CD reissue of their music, the Revolutionary Ensemble reunited at the Vision Festival in New York.
The same year, the group went back in the studio for the first time since 1977 and released the album And Now… for the Pi label. The following year, he released the album Live, which was originally recorded in 1981 at the Public Theater in New York City. The album featured drummer Denis Charles and alto saxophonist Claude Lawrence. His ensemble is best represented on the song When It’s Over, which features Sirone on trombone.
The song begins with Lawrence playing a brief passage before being joined by Sirone in harmony. The passage is played repeatedly before Sirone begins to solo beginning at 2:41. He demonstrates several motifs and patterns throughout his lightly accompanied solo including short, sixteenth note bursts, long vibrato-laden phrasing and low bursts of sound. Charles further augments his performance by responding to several of his motifs, solidifying his ideas and harmonic concepts.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Sirone began to play the guitar on several albums including alto saxophonist Joe Johnson’s 2005 album Life of the Party. His latest credit is as a guitarist on Johnson’s 2008 release The After Party, which features contributions from drummer Felix Pollard and trumpeter Steve Patrick amongst others.
Sirone and his wife Veronika live in Germany.
Select Discography As a leader
As a leader
With Gato Barbieri
In Search of the Mystery (1967)
With Marion Brown
Why Not? (1966)
Three For Shepp (1966)
With Ornette Coleman
In Concert (1974)
Lonely Woman (1974)
Original Phalanx (1987)
In Touch (1988)
With Pharoah Sanders
Izipho Zam (1969)
With Revolutionary Ensemble
Manhattan Cycles (1972)
With Sonny Sharrock
Black Woman (1969)
With Cecil Taylor
The Cecil Taylor Unit (1978)
3 Phasis (1978)
Live in the Black Forest (1978)
Contributor: Eric Wendell