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Herbie Jones: 1927-2001
Herbie Jones
Trumpet, arranger, copyist, teacher

Born: 1927 in Miami, Florida
Died: March 19, 2001 in New York City, New York

Reliable Lead Trumpet in Ellington Orchestra

Copyright © 2001 

The Scotsman, 2001


Herbie Jones was an important if largely unsung contributor to the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1960s. Although he was rarely featured as one of the band’s soloists, he often played the crucial role of lead trumpet, and was also responsible for adding a number of arrangements to the band’s book. They included contributions to Ellington’s first two Sacred Concerts, as well as “Cootie’s Caravan”, written for trumpeter Cootie Williams, “The Opener”, and “The Prowling Cat”.

Jazz historian Patricia Willard, who interviewed Jones for the Smithsonian Institution’s Duke Ellington Oral History Collection, said in the New York Times that the trumpeter had been allowed the privilege of working closely with Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. They would write musical sketches in his presence, which Jones would then develop into finished parts for the musicians to play.

He began playing professionally at the age of 14. He attended college in Florida for a time, but dropped out prior to his graduation to join band leader Lucky Millinder in New York in 1950. He played in a number of bands before joining Ellington, including those led by Andy Kirk, Buddy Johnson, Cab Calloway and Eddie Barefield, where he was able to develop his skills in arranging and composition.

He joined Ellington during a tour of the Far East in 1963, linking up with the band in Ceylon, and toured extensively with them. He contributed a great deal to the characteristic sound of the band in that decade. Ellington paid tribute to Jones’s work in his autobiography, Music Is My Mistress, where he said that “he was a great asset to the band from several points of view. A good reader, he played first trumpet whenever required, and he extracted and copied scores accurately. He never demanded any special treatment or consideration. He was neat and clean, neither smoked nor drank, and always walked four miles a day.”

Jones explained his reluctance to step out as a soloist to Patricia Willard, saying that he had many opportunities to accept Ellington’s repeated offers to write solo parts for him, but he always declined, because “he did not want to be indelibly identified with the Ellington style”.

He left the band in the late 1960s in search of a more stable family life than the touring musicians’s role could offer, and took on a challenging position as the first director of an alternative arts-oriented school in New York City. Although he gave up performing professionally, he kept his hand in as the voluntary director of the Bugle Corps of the Police Athletic League in Harlem.

He died from complications arising out of diabetes on 19 March, 2001, in New York City, aged 74. His marriage to Gladys Hield ended in divorce. He is survived by two daughters, Jennifer and Priscilla; a son, Herbert Jr.; a brother, Benjamin; and three granddaughters.

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