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The New York Times Music Chronicle reviews Rifftide

By Colin Fleming
New York Times Music Chronicle

Jones_Rifftide coverWith a pronounced irascible streak to match his heterodox approach to drumming, Papa Jo Jones (1911-85) was an ideal candidate to star in the kind of book that delights jazz fans: the straight-talking, defiantly espousing firsthand record. Anyone interested in authenticity of voice is going to be on the verge of fist-pumping the air throughout, or else exclaiming, “You tell it like it is, baby,” as if partaking in a call-and-response with the book. A confident and self-aware man — but a sensitive one all the same — Jones details his adventures with the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and just about every swing giant. One gets the sense that as pleased as he was to play with one legend after another, they should have been (at least) as pleased to have played with him. Swing enthusiasts who have long delighted in Jones’s subtle and complex ride cymbal patterns might be taken aback by his less nuanced approach to family dynamics. “I told my sister when I was 14 and she was 16: I said if you ever become a colored mammy, I’ll kill ya.” Jones speaks as he drummed, with one melodic line looping back and joining up with another. After about 10 pages, you start hearing those vocal rhythms in your head, and Jones the hothead gives way to Jones the pundit. By the time he gets to his relationship with Satchel Paige, it’s as though “Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya,” the ever­green oral history of jazz, has merged with its baseball analogue, “The Glory of Their Times,” and popped in for a cameo in this tough but charming little book.

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