Hank Jones, R.I.P.
The pianist Hank Jones died on Sunday at age 91, ending one of the great jazz dynasties (his brothers were the drummer Elvin and the trumpeter-composer Thad) and taking out one more survivor of the generation that founded post-war jazz.
Jones was active till the end, and in fine form too. His style was mannered and sophisticated but never gentle or posh. He played mainly standards, always with swing, inventive harmonies, and a subtle undercurrent of blues.
He came up through the jazz ranks in Detroit, moved to New York in 1944, and fell in instantly with the be-bop elite on 52nd Street, as a sideman to Charlie Parker and the others.
But his years as dynamo leader didn’t come until the 1970s, when he started the Great Jazz Trio with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. A later version, with the same moniker, included his brother Elvin (one of the few times they played together) and Richard Davis. (This latter group put out two albums, as CDs, SACDs, and LPs, on the Japanese label Eighty-eight, Autumn Leaves and Someday My Prince Will Come, and are worth searching out.)
My favorite Hank Jones albums are probably The Oracle, a stunning 1989 trio album with Dave Holland and Billy Higgins—all three masters performing at their peak—and Steal Away, a 1995 duet session of moody spirituals with bassist Charlie Haden that the word “gorgeous” doesn’t begin to describe. In 2006, he recorded a trio session called West of 5th, with Jimmy Cobb and Christian McBride, for the audiophile Chesky label, and it’s one of the best albums Chesky’s ever made.
More recently, he teamed up with the tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano for a few albums on Blue Note. The best of them, Kids, was recorded live at Dizzy’s, the small club in Jazz at Lincoln Center, and it’s full of verve and joy. I was present for one of those gigs. Jones was 88, seemed 20 years younger, and was clearly having a ball. That’s how I’ll remember him.