Hank Jones says his previous performance at Detroit’s Labor Day jazz festival, in 1974 according to the festival’s Web site, has “faded from my memory.” But this year’s stop is, nevertheless, “a great honor.” The Mississippi-born, Pontiac-raised Jones, 91, is more than just a guy playing piano at this weekend’s Detroit International Jazz Festival. Sub-titled Keeping Up With The Joneses, the four-day event is paying homage to Jones and his two late younger brothers — drummer Elvin and trumpeter Thad; even artist-in-residence John Clayton’s commissioned piece, “T.H.E. Family, Detroit,” is inspired by the Jones family legacy.
“Thad and Elvin made their own reputations; they certainly don’t need anything from me,” says Jones. “They were the most talented, I think, in our family. I’ll just be trying to do my best not to denigrate their efforts ... and do my part to maintain the reputation Thad and Elvin established.”
That is, of course, a modest assessment. Hank Jones, a 1989 NEA Jazz Master, has his own giant reputation from a long and stellar career of playing. A professional by the age of 13, he worked in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Ohio, before saxophonist Eli “Lucky” Thompson invited him to work with Oran “Hot Lips” Page’s band in New York City. That began a career playing with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman and scores of others, as well as leading his own ensembles.
He also accompanied Marilyn Monroe when she sang her famous rendition of “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy.
Jones has, in fact, recorded on an estimated 500-plus albums — and has “several things in the works” at the moment, he says.
“I’ve come to the conclusion there’s a lot more I have to learn,” says Jones, adding that he still practices up to three hours a day. “I’m busy trying to improve on what I’m doing. You can’t stop and rest on your laurels; you have to keep going. That’s my overriding thought. That’s what I intend to do.”
Hank Jones and his trio perform at 7 p.m. Friday (Sept. 4) on the Chase Main Stage at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. He’ll also appear at 4:30 this afternoon in the Pepsi Jazz Talk Tent. Visit www.detroitjazzfest.com.
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