Hank Jones passed away on May 16, 2010 at the age of 91.
Henry Jones was born on July 31, 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi to a large and incredibly musical family. Among Hank’s siblings are Jazz drummer Elvin and Jazz trumpet player Thad. Hank’s father moved the family to Pontiac, Michigan early on for a better job opportunity. Jones began studying piano at an early age and was influenced by the playing of Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. By the time Hank was thirteen he was performing locally and in 1944 he met Lucky Thompson who encouraged him to move to New York City and join up with ‘Hot Lips’ Page.
In New York City Hank noticed the music shifting towards Bebop and would not be left behind though he never lost his lyrical style of playing that made him so unique. During this time in New York Jones also worked with Howard McGhee, Coleman Hawkins, Andy Kirk, Billy Eckstein, Charlie Parker and Max Roach among others. In 1947 Hank began touring with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic and also toured with Ella Fitzgerald from 1948 to ’53. In 1952 Jones recorded on Charlie Parker’s legendary album ‘Now’s the Time’. Also in 1952 Hank joined up with Artie Shaw followed by stints with Johnny Hodges and Tyree Glenn. Jones began performing with Benny Goodman in 1956 and became the staff piano player at CBS Studios a few years later and would remain so for seventeen years. Hank also recorded with Lester Young, Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery in 1950s.
One of Hank’s most famous performances happened in 1962 backing up Marilyn Monroe at Madison Square Garden as she sang “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy. In the 1970s Jones continued to tour with his trio as well as with other piano players in a duo setting including Tommy Flanagan and John Lewis. Hank also was the piano player and conductor for the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin, a tribute to Fats Waller, in the late ‘70s. In 1976 The Great Trio was formed with Jones on piano and different bass players and drummers throughout its existence including Buster Williams, Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez, Tony Williams, Al Foster and Jimmy Cobb. During this time period Hank also recorded with Nancy Jones, Art Farmer, Sonny Stitt and Benny Golson. Some of his notable albums later in his career include ‘Steal Away’ in 1995 with Charlie Haden and an ensemble from Mali, ‘For My Father’ in 2005 with George Mraz and Dennis Mackrel, a solo album in 2006 entitled ‘Round Midnight’ and ‘West of 5th’ in 2006 with Christian McBride and Jimmy Cobb.
Hank Jones won many honors in life including the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, National Medal of the Arts, ASCAP Jazz Living Legend Award, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and five Grammy nominations. Jones leaves a legacy as a legendary pianist and Jazz master whose beautiful music will continue to be listened to and celebrated for a long time.