2019 FESTIVAL PROFILE
A Jones for blues
The blues bit LA Jones as a child, and they clearly haven’t loosed their grip.
LA Jones says the blues bit when he was 12 or 13, growing up in Woodbury, Connecticut, and they clearly haven’t loosed their grip in the decades since. On August 22, his blues quartet will be onstage for opening night of the 2019 Blue Jay Jazz Festival, ensuring that jazz’ ancestral music is well represented.
Joining the Handy Award-winning Jones are Blues Music Award-nominated Adrianna Marie on vocals and upright bass, saxophonist Jerry Donato and drummer Marcus Bashore.
For Jones, recognized as pioneer of a left-handed blues guitar style that blends Texas jump swing with West Coast and 1950s Chicago Blues, his life in music traces back to the opening of a certain coffeehouse in his 2,000-person hometown.
"Some jazz musicians from New York moved up and opened it and right away it became a music hub for the region, drawing bands from New York, New Haven, Boston, and Rhode Island," he recalled. "And that’s where I was first exposed to blues and jazz. It was part of a big blues revival going on. BB King was the first, followed quickly by Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and tons of others in the fertile Northeast blues scene. I knew the first time I heard it that playing the blues was what I wanted to do with my life.
"“It was right in the center of the Rhode Island, Boston, New York triangle and there were hundreds of road houses that had bands in there. You could see Howling Wolf, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Albert King, Johnny Winter, and Muddy Waters. There were times Willie Dixon would be playing three nights in a row in New Haven for $2."
Building a lifetime in music
Jones’ jazz education was home schooled, with his parents listening to music of the swing era and Seth Hedu, his best friend then and now, showing how to play carved-top guitar flawlessly to Wes Montgomery solos, and then how to build the guitar. (Jones is still a guitar builder.)
"Seth and his dad, John, were a huge influence on me," said Jones. "From a young age I got an infusion of Chicago Blues and jazz. There was also a jazz influence at that time with Lionel Hampton coming through, and the Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington bands."
After learning to play, Jones started hitchhiking around the country, becoming "kind of a wanderer following blues bands around."
"My favorite jazz guys have always been the ones that are deeply rooted in the Blues," he said. "Guys like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson."
Blues marches on
As Jones sees it, people think blues is simple. It is, he agrees, but points out that it's "deceptively simple. It's not just a musical form."
"If you listen to original Chicago blues, it’s songs with parts, not just a 12-bar," he said. "When trying to play blues, most people just noodle over the top without learning its actual content. Instead they should be listening to the subtleties and what makes the song identifiable as a song."
Asked to name the artists and albums that most influenced him, Jones provided his top five records (in column at left).
The list of artists, however, could not be limited to five and in addition to those listed earlier in the story, there are BB King, T-bone Walker, Luther Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Otis Spann.
"And don’t forget all the heroes that I got to play with," he added. "Pinetop Perkins, Casey Jones, Eddie Kirkland, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush, Jesse Austin and Zora Young."
Bringing the blues to a jazz festival is essential in Jones’ view.
"Blues is needed in jazz now more than ever," he insisted. "These days there’s a harder division between jazz and blues compared to the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, when the line was very soft and there were many people that played both with equal integrity. If you listen to T-bone Walker in the ’40s you will hear jazz musicians backing them up. Same thing with BB King.
"The heartbeat of jazz is blues."
Listening to LA Jones Quartet on Thursday, August 22, will be a great way to feel the blues at this year’s Blue Jay Jazz Festival. But he’d be the first to tell you, you’ll just be scratching the surface.
LA Jones has performed in every state in the Continental U.S., toured Japan, and toured exten-sively in Europe. Among his recordings – as a guest artist and under his own name – are A Day Late and a Dollar Short with Pinetop Perkins; Jumpin at Shadows with Hash Brown and Magic Dave; LA Jones and the Blues Messengers; and Double Crossing Blues with Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters.
Adrianna Marie‘s musical road education began at an early age as the child of musical parents in a folk group. Her 2014 CD Double Crossing Blues was nominated for “Best New Artist Debut” by The Blues Foundation and Blues Blast Magazine. In 2017, her Adrianna Marie and the Groovecutters released Kingdom of Swing, produced by Duke Robillard.
Since 1983, Jerry Donato, known for torrid sax swipes and Texas gutbucket honk, has performed with nearly every touring show and orchestra that has come through the Phoenix area, played on a few hundred albums, and even logged some tele-vision experience performing on “The Arsenio Hall Show” and on the sountracks for “Evening Shade” and several TNT movies.
Pocket drummer Marcus Bashore has appeared onstage with Big Mama Thornton, Bo Diddley, Pee Wee Crayton, James Harman, Smokey Wilson and Hollywood Fats. He was a member of the Five Care-less Lovers, the King Biscuit Blues Band, the Juke Stompers, the Blond Bruce band and Ruby and the Red Hots. In between late night gigs and recording sessions he spends time as an expert cabinet-maker.
Photos: Top, LA Jones (Marilyn Stringer)