Paeans to Hank Jones

My profile of pianist Hank Jones, who turned 91 on July 31, is in the August issue of Down Beat and excerpted here. Space limitations disallowed any of the resounding shout-outs I asked for from a bevy of musicians to make the print edition: No such problem on the web! So read what several pianists with styles of their own, and one of Hank’s most admiring collaborators,  have to say about an eminently modest but extraordinarily accomplished gentleman. 

“Hank Jones, our high
dignitary of the piano, patriarch of the Detroit piano legacy, NEA Jazz Master,
and elegant gentleman, personifies regal sophistication and impeccable taste in
the nuance of sound palette through touch, melody, harmony and rhythm. Time and
time again, he expresses the comprehensive variety of carefully selected
choices which make up his striking body of work. He is an authentic virtuoso of
the highest order, an inspiration and soaring affirmation of our own
possibilities. It is always an extraordinary experience to hear Mr. Jones, live
or on record, and it is a great honor to know him. Thank you Mr. Jones.”
Geri Allen (currently touring with Andrew Cyrille, Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman as Geri Allen + Trio 3, which has a new album, At This Time issued on Intakt)

“For me, when I think of
Hank Jones, the first thing that comes to mind is his ‘elegance and
finesse’ in jazz piano playing. I remember meeting him backstage at the
Broadway show ‘Ain’t Misbehavin” where he shined all night long as he
performed flawlessly the music of Fats Waller, and years later I was lucky to
meet him once again at the Bern Jazz Festival. By then I had already met his
brothers Thad at the Vanguard, as well as Elvin and his wife Keiko at the Blue
Note. I believe Hank is definitely one of the legendary jazz pianists of all
times. —
Michel Camilo (2009-2010 Jazz Creative Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, he plays at the Newport Jazz Festival this weekend).

“Hank Jones is a great
master of jazz piano, whom I respect and admire.  He hasn’t been a direct
influence on my playing, but I’ve seen him live in concert and have heard a lot
of recordings of him.  He always blows me away.”  — Billy Childs (Los Angelino, frequently commissioned composer-pianist and 2009 Guggenheim fellow)

“Hank has
retained his sharp wit, joyful approach to living and wonderful playing and has
laughed at the myth of ‘old age.’ He’s are pure inspiration.” — Chick Corea (this summer touring Europe performing solo concerts, one piano duet program with Stefano Bollani and some engagements with Gary Burton; Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White play the Hollywood Bowl September 2 and the Detroit International Jazz Festival September 4, then 16 more dates until October 1).

The greatness of Hank
Jones is unmistakable.  His rhythmic poise and the warmth of his sound are
the first things you notice.  Then you begin to hear the wisdom of every
choice he makes.


Improvisers are
virtuoso “deciders”; they make decisions in real time and act on them
in the same moment, uniting thought and action.  Every single sound that
an improvisor makes is the result of a real-time decision.  


A lifetime of
deciding etches intricate canyons of structure into the neural pathways
connecting the brain to the body’s sonorous actions.  To hear Hank Jones
today is to hear impossible levels of detail, decades of personal history,
embodied in every gesture, every nuance, every sound.

This quality, the “late style” of an improviser, is abundantly audible in the playing of Mr. Jones. He is a performer whose musical decisions, having resounded for the bettter part of a century, are now blessed with a crystalline quality, a hard-won and very real luminosity, poise, composure, convictions. At this point, everything he does is magical.” — Vijay Iyer (adapted from his 2008 program notes to the Bretano Quartet Carnegie Hall concerts, “Concerning Late Style in Composer and Improvisers”; Iyer performs with his trio this weekend at the Newport Jazz Festival, August 30 in the Jazz Festival Saalfelden (Switzerland), and September 20 at the Monterey Jazz Festival) 

“No other living
pianist can do what he does. His touch and how he anchors everything with his
left hand is of course a testament to the ragtime and stride generations. But
he’s one of the few – and perhaps the best example – who bridged that with how
pianists play today. I think he’s the most perfectly balanced pianist I have
seen, in every way: touch, feel, swing, sensitivity, accompaniment, facility,
heart, mind and soul. It’s pure beauty. And one can feel his sincerity and
devotion to music in every note.” – Jason
(he performs at the Regatta Bar in Boston with vocalist Claudia Acuna August 7, and at the Newport Jazz Festival August 8)

“God bless Hank, he’s
something else. He’s just great to know. I first met him when I was in Mel
s’s band, in 1980 -’91, since he sat in on occasion. Then when I toured
with Elvin’s Jazz Machine with in ’87, Europe being so exciting to me and
me being so excited about Elvin, I remember rapping with Hank about it all back


“In Moscow, Idaho at
the Lionel Hampton festivals in ’94 and ’95 I sat with Hank in small groups; he
and Elvin were sort of the house rhythm section, as I remember playing with Roy
Hargrove, Benny Golson, Brian Bromberg
and Christian McBride and others. Then I
think it was 1998 when Hank called me to guest with his trio in Birdland. That
was a thrill, to have him call me. And we started recording, at first a ballad,
two or three other songs, and it became like a dream, all of a sudden we had a
relationship, it wasn’t like we were just hooking up to cut a couple of pieces.
We did ‘I’m All For You,’ based on ‘Body and Soul,’ and from that point on we
played a lot.


“I played on Hank’s 90th
birthday celebration at the Hollywood Bowl last summer, and we did a duet tour
in San Sebastian this July. He has the best feeling and touch; he’s one of the
most distinctive voices in modern jazz, and captures you from the first moment
you hear him. He’s copied and valued by everyone when you’re playing with him
in an ensemble. He has an uncanny way of following and leading with equal
balance. It’s egoless in appearance, but the way he swings and accompanies you
with dynamics is like no one else. His clarity and focus are amazing, he always
comes up with new voicings, he doesn’t repeat himself, he’s always moving
forward — he has a very free approach within the music he loves to play. He’s
into detail, the way he puts things together, but he’s also loose and open to
the flow of the moment. He’s totally modern in his approach, and timeless. He’s
influenced me enormously, with his sense of phrasing and space. He takes me
places. We move together in beautiful unique dialog. — Joe Lovano (Hank Jones is featured with Lovano’s quartet at the Monterey Jazz Festival September 20; they recorded a sweet record together, Kids: Duets Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola)

“Having just turned 60
yesterday, I can still say that when I grow up, I want to be Hank Jones. I’ve just arrived in Holland, to conduct his concert in The Hague.

“Hank Jones has been an inspiration in many ways. He possesses an
impeccable pianistic touch; a wonderful harmonic sense, and I’ve always felt
that Hank means every single note — there’s never a wasted note in his lines.
They’re perfect gems.


“In another way, he’s been
an influence because of his position as the first pianist for the Thad
Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra
(for which I was the last pianist).  When I
joined the band in 1978 I modeled my playing on Hank and his successor, Roland


And personally:
 suffice it to say that the way Hank Jones  plays, looks, and lives at the
age of 90 inspires all of us, and gives us hope!” Thanks for asking!  —
Jim McNeely (currently artist-in-residence with the HR (Hessischer Rundfunk) Big Band in Frankfurt, Germany; hear his Grammy-nominated album Lickety Split: The Vanguard jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Jim McNeely)

“Hank Jones –
a perfect blend of soul and class.”  — Eric Scott Reed heard throughout August at the Pasadena Playhouse

rich harmonic language, beautiful time, nuanced touch, witty lines and
ever-present impeccable taste make Hank Jones one of the most unique and
important pianists in the history of jazz. As it is with a great painting or
book, every time I listen to a Hank Jones recording, even one I’ve heard many
times, I discover something new to learn and appreciate. — Renee Rosnes (playing with Bobby Hutcherson‘s quartet at the Blue Note in Tokyo Aug. 4 – 10, leading her own quartet at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC Sept 8 – 13)

his seniority and extraordinary accomplishments, Hank Jones continues to push his
creative potential.  Hank never stops trying out new ideas. This youthful
vigor combined with his immaculate taste, touch, sensitivity, and harmonic
ingenuity make Hank Jones one of my musical heroes. Plus, he’s one of the
nicest guys in the business! It’s so wonderful to have Hank on the scene
inspiring all of us younger guys and I’m honored to have Hank consider me one
of his ‘students.'” — Michael Weiss (pianist with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, every Monday night at the Village Vanguard and at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival September 6; leading his own trio at Princeton’s Jazz Nights, September 26, and featured with Jimmy Heath’s quartet in October)

Here’s Hank himself, accepting the “Pianist of the Year” award at the Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Awards on June 16 —
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  1. says

    While I have tremoundous for Hank Jones–it seems Barry Harris is ignored–Barry is a friend and colleague–Monk died in his house in Weehawken, NJ–doesnt Mr. Harris also deserve recognition? One of the originals in Detroit bop era–playing with Lee Morgan–many more–he taught me a very important lesson–“You can’t let the bad guys win all the time’
    HM: If Barry Harris is being ignored, it may be because he does not gig as frequently or as variously as does Hank Jones, or it may be that his pianism does not attain the same level of grace. He has devoted much energy to education over the past couple of decades, and in recognition of that the Jazz Journalists Assoc. named him to its “A Team” of activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors three years ago. He has, for whatever reasons, taken a back seat in recording for quite a while, and pianists such as the late Tommy Flanagan and James Williams, Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller, Kirk Lightsey, Donald Brown, diverse others have tilled a similar part of the piano field (let’s leave out of the discussion Cecil Taylor, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Joanne Brackeen, Geri Allen, Myra Melford, Frank Kimbrough, David Hazeltine, Dave Kikowski, Connie Crothers, Bill Charlap, Fred Hersch, Geoff Keezer, Jessica Williams, Brad Mehldau, etc. who are of younger generations with very different musical backgrounds and goals than Jones, Harris, Flanagan shared as “Detroit piano school” elders). I’m sure if I’d been assigned by DB to write about Harris, I would have heard from pianists with acclaim for him. Hank Jones, though, won the DB critics’ poll, hence the assignment, and my requests from pianists for comments.