Coming into prominence in the Big Band era of jazz, “Papa” Jo Jones, as he was known, was a timekeeper at heart. Locked in with guitarist Freddie Green and bassist Walter Page, they were collectively considered the “All American Rhythm Section.” Joining Count Basie’s band around 1934 and staying with him until 1948 (with a 2-year hiatus in between with the military), Papa Jo imparted a legacy that would resound long after his passing making him a key influence for drummers today.
Among his stylistic imprints was Papa Jo’s impeccable (and pioneering) use of the hi-hat and ride cymbals as timekeeping devices which transitioned the traditional role from the bass drum’s primary four beats to the bar standard that was in place at that time. Moreover, it was Jones’ early tap dancing days at the carnival during his youth that influenced his later brush techniques like the sweeping sounds he imitated from dancers who would drag their feet over sand-covered platforms.
Check out below as we investigate some of the pivotal recordings, setups, and performances of Papa Jo Jones!
Papa Jo’s Setup (c. 1940)
The “All-American Rhythm Section”
The work Jo Jones, Walter Page, and Freddie Green did together with Count Basie goes most certainly goes down in history as one of the great and defining rhythm sections of all-time. Basie once remarked, “You may think you’re the boss, but the drummer is really the head man.” Although the recording quality may sound dated the musicians are still some of the most relevant to ever live.
The Jo Jones Special
Not only was Papa Jo a revered member of many bands and sessions, he was a bandleader in his own right. The Jo Jones Special, recorded in 1955, features Bennie Green, Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson Freddie Green, Count Basie, Nat Pierce, and Walter Page among others.
Jammin’ the Blues (1944)
Jammin’ the Blues is a short film that documented many prominent jazz musicians of the ’40s in a jam session format. Musicians in the film include Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Marlowe Morris, “Big” Sid Catlett, Illinois Jacquet, John Simmons, and Barney Kessel. Papa Jo takes over from Big Sid at the 30-minute mark for the last song.
Papa Jo Puts Down the Sticks
Among other stylistic shticks, Papa Jo was known to put down his drum sticks and treat the drum set like a set of hand drums. Check out one of his solos.
The Coleman Hawkins Quintet
Aside from Count Basie, Jo Jones was a part of many influential groups and recordings. Here he is tearing it up with the Coleman Hawkins Quintet. As evidenced here, his solo style was like nothing else.
*What are some of your favorite Papa Jo Jones recordings or performances?
Words by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)