Tuesday, May 18

Booked through Fall, stealing away in Spring ...

Click below to hear Hank Jones and Charlie Haden playing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child".

Piano great Hank Jones has just passed on at the ripe age of 91. It is normally supposed to be 'ripe old age', but anyone who has had the good fortune to see Hank Jones' piano playing of late would surely agree he was 'old' only in musical wisdom, wistful melodic wit and depth of soul.

I will not go into details on the life and long professional career (nearly eight decades from the age of 13!) of this legendary jazz man. For a 'proper' obituary and remembrance you can go read Peter Keepnews at the New York Times or Patrick Jarenwattananon at A Blog Supreme / NPR Jazz, with plenty of worthwhile links. And more will surely follow.

Hank Jones played with a nearly endless list of jazz luminaries: Coleman Hawkins, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane... In the last few decades he continued to develop and blossomed as a leader in his own right, while remaining one of the most sought after pianists demanded by the top names in jazz. He has backed vocalists from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra to Diana Krall and many, many more. Though set to celebrate his 92nd birthday on July 31, he remained incredibly active; the NY Times obituary reports his schedule was booked full through Fall.

But Hank has now slipped off to join his brother Elvin Jones, the great drummer forever associated with John Coltrane and leader of his own combos, and Thad Jones, trumpeter, composer, arranger and co-founder/leader of the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Jones big band. Some serious soulful swinging at the pearly gates tonight.

Curious piece of jazz trivia: If you think you have never heard Hank Jones playing the piano, you are probably mistaken — Hank Jones was the pianist who backed Marilyn Monroe in her highly celebrated steamy rendition of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" sung for JFK at Madison Square Garden in 1962.

I close with a photo, not of Marilyn, but of a gorgeous soul and beautiful, dearly appreciated musician, Hank Jones, taken last summer in Spain at the San Sebastián Jazz Festival.

Hank Jones in San Sebastián, July 2009. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP/Getty Images
Musical credits. The piece "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is from the album “Steal Away — Spiritual, Hymns and Folk Songs”, with Hank Jones on piano and Charlie Haden playing bass. Recorded in 1994 on Verve Records – Polydor.


  1. A comment can't do justice to the beauty of this music, but I'll leave a trace of my gratitude to you for sharing this in my few words here. Thanks, Lorenzo..

  2. So glad you enjoyed the music, Elisabeth. I truly feel we have a responsibility to these great artists, some can live up to it by creating beauty of their own, others by sharing and spreading the word, and many of us by earnestly trying to do a bit of both.

  3. dude that is amazing music...cool that you spotlighted those that made another great...

  4. That was absolutely beautiful. And the photo to end the piece was a perfect choice.

  5. I grew up hearing Ethel Waters sing this on our dining room turntable. Hank soothed me this morning, and I needed it, thank you, Hank, thank you, Lorenzo. Your post title would make a terrific biography title for him. What a way to go out, light burning bright. And I just LOVE the piano portrait. Stirring.

    Thank you, always, for synthesizing these bio-histories so lovingly and soulfully.

  6. Brian: The music is not Hank Jones at his most virtuosic, but it certainly has a lot of soul and feeling, especially with Haden's pulsing bass.

    Amy (She Writes): Yes, I was really struck by the photo also. How good he looked on the very eve of his 91th birthday. The dark black background takes over half of the photo and lends mystery and weight to the portrait.

    Ruth: "Music is a Healing Force" was the name of an album by Don Pullen, and I think it is so true. Good to know the piece soothes you; a little concerned that you say you needed it. By the way, I really appreciated your post and photolog of the trip to New York. I grew up just outside the city, identify very much with NYC and miss it terribly.

  7. Thanks, Lorenzo. And I'm glad you liked the NY post.

    Yes, my mom grew up in Bayonne, went to Columbia, so NYC is there in me somewhere, via her. I hope you can get back for a visit. It's a magnet.

  8. I was listening to my favourite radio programme today (Jian Ghomeshi's arts programme, Q, on CBC radio) and he played clips of interviews with Hank Jones, including one where Jones played a little Oscar Peterson through his phone! :) What a modest man he was.

  9. Lorenzo, you know I started following your blog awhile back for literary reasons. But your posts on music are also enchanting.

  10. Lorenzo, How beautiful, thank you. What a lovely tribute to Hank Jones...amazing to the end. I had meant to leave a comment a few days ago on your wonderful post about Mary Lou Williams... I so enjoyed it, the music & the links.... + your remembrance of another jazz great, Lena Horne. Thanks so much for sharing so eloquently your knowledge & passion for music.

  11. well lorenzo this is a beautiful piece. i have always loved charlie haden's bass playing - i first saw him with keith jarrett way back in the mid seventies - and paired here with hank's spare luscious playing is such a gift!!! steven

  12. Yes, Ruth, I will try to get back to NYC this summer. It's been too long since I've been away.

    Andrea: You're right, he was quite modest. In general, he always came off as very affable and pleasant. I will have to check out the Q programme you mention on the web.

    Jessie: Hi. I liked the poem you posted yesterday ... "softly spoken" as always.

    Sally: As I said in a previous comment, remembering, celebrating and honoring these artists feels like a responsibility, and one that is very rewarding to meet.

    Steven: Charlie Haden's bass is always bedrock, soulful and swinging. One of the greats. You saw him in the mid-1970s, eh? That ages you and I both. I noticed that you and I are the same age (53) so we were probably discovering some of this music around the same time. And from previous exchanges I remembe how much you loved the music of Elvin Jones, Hank's drummer brother.

  13. Terresa: I am glad you appreciate the forays into music. Sadly, many of these pieces are obits, but more than mourn the passing of these beautiful musicians, I try to celebrate what they have bequeathed us.


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