Jo Jones: Celebrating a Drumming God with a Mischievous Grin

Jo Jones - Drumming God
Jo Jones in action. This image is taken from Drummerworld.com.

A drumming post today to celebrate the life of jazz legend Jo Jones (1911 – 1985), who had one of the most distinctive (if bizarre) drumming styles we’ve ever come across. As there’s another jazz drumming legend called Philly Joe Jones, he often went by the name of Papa Jo Jones to distinguish himself (the two, oddly, died only a few days apart).

With his peculiar, delighted, and mischievous facial expressions whilst playing, inventive fills, trickery with his hands, and habit of often abstaining from using his bass drum altogether (which is like deciding to play the violin with a shotgun instead of a traditional bow – good analogy, huh?), he’s a delight to watch. Have a gander!

Jo Jones Drum Solo

His unique style shifted time keeping away from the bass drum to the high-hat. Unlike jazz drummers such as the great Buddy Rich, he didn’t thrash his kit senseless, instead preferring a light touch with those unusual, inventive fills. It’s the type of drumming no one else can replicate – it was Jones’ brilliance which ensured no one could match his style.

As you can see from the clip, he was a real showman and something of a humorist. You can’t help but think his sense of fun whilst playing must have endeared him to children, but he was also massively respected in the jazz community and remains, thankfully, a big influence to this day. Hats off to the man.

Matched Grip VS Traditional Grip

Whilst we’re big fans of jazz drummers, the community can be awfully pretentious, with many jazz drummers sneering down at other styles (mainly rock drumming) as inferior. “If you don’t have the talent, become a rock drummer” is the gist; greats like Ginger Baker still class themselves as jazz drummers, despite his obvious rock influences, in order to not diminish their reputation. It’s all a bit daft, frankly.

Dave Weckl is considered by some jazz buffs to be the best drummer in the world right now. Weckl-ites, as we’ve dubbed them, can’t comprehend the idea anyone can possibly be near his level, despite the fact there are the likes of natural genius Reni in action for the Stone Roses right now. I had a discussion about this with a Weckl fan online and, to highlight how stuffy some jazz aficionados can be, he confidently claimed Reni would not be able to pass fundamental drum school lessons.

Anyway, Buddy Rich above provides his views on it all, including how to hold your drum sticks. We picked up an electronic drum kit recently and have taken to holding the sticks with traditional grip, primarily just to show off. It’s easier to play with matched grip but, whatever, some players just want to keep drumming lore alive – when you had players like Jo Jones, you can see why.

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