Rodney Jones

Rodney Jones

I am currently on tour throughout Russia, and Southeast Asia with my quartet. On a flight today from Shenyang China to Guangzhou China I nearly cried as I listened to Rodney Jones’s CD entitled “Dreams And Stories”. This CD was recorded in the eighties featuring the late genius of Kenny Kirkland, Marc Johnson (from the Bill Evans trio), and Jeff Watts (from Wynton Marsalis Group). Of course at the time this was recorded none of these musicians had joined any of those groups yet. Their careers were just beginning to take off. Rodney had played with Dizzy Gillespie’s band at age 20 which of course gave great credibility to his career. Kenny Kirkland had his first big gig with Michael Urbaniak, and Jeff Watts of course was Wynton Marsalis’s drummer of choice from the first LP Wynton did for George Butler at CBS records. That relationship eventually led to me doing a solo LP for George Butler as well. At that time I remember Wynton coming up to me at the Juilliard school one day asking me who he could get to play piano on his record. He had just come to New York, and did not know all the young players. I recommended Kenny Kirkland to him, and that began relationship that I am sure changed Wynton’s life. I recommended Kenny because he was the best young pianist in New York, and my close friend as well. Rodney, Kenny, Cecil McBee Jr. and I had a band together that jammed regularly at the seminary next to Manhattan School Of Music, and also played local gigs in New York. I was playing drums in those days. Anyway Kenny, Rodney, and myself used to spend countless hours transcribing McCoy Tyner solos, Herbie Hancock solos, George Benson solos, as this was the passion, and these were the heroes in the music that led us to where we are today. Unfortunately Kenny is no longer with us, so when listening today to “Dreams And Stories”, which was released on High Note records after many years sitting on the shelf, I was brought to tears. I miss Kenny, and Rodney Jones continues to be one of my best friends in the world, and has helped my career take off over the years. Because of Rodney I was in the rhythm section for CD’s with Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Ruth Brown, Gloria Lynn, as well as on the Rosie O’Donnell show as a keyboard player, and of course on 3 or 4 of Rodney’s solo CD’s. It has truly been a privilege to be close to Rodney, and be involved in his music. His deeply rooted love, and knowledge of our art form has had a tremendous influence on me through the years, and his deep spirituality has led me down the right path to enlightenment. I owe Rodney Jones a lot, and deeply value his friendship. He is truly one of the finest guitarist, composer, arranger producer, and educators on this planet. In addition his spiritual beliefs, and influence have had a profound effect on my life.  I think next to King George (George Benson), Rodney is the best. His vast array of harmonic language, and understanding of all styles has made him #1 in my mind as a producer. He can literally produce any type of music.  He knows just about every standard ever written, and can play, and or arrange them with a unique style that speaks of his life, and the music of today.  As a sideman Rodney has played with everyone from Queen Latifah to Dizzy Gillespie, and Dr. Lonnie Smith. He is certainly one of the most sought out guitarists in the world. These days Rodney is professor of guitar at the Juilliard Jazz program, where he is passing on his vast knowledge to the young up and coming guitarist in that program, which has quickly become one of the finest jazz programs in the US under the direction of the great drummer, and educator Carl Allen.  If you are a musician and you do not know who Rodney Jones is, then you are clearly living in a bubble separated from what is really happening in music. And to Rodney as a friend, and colleague for 40 years I say, “I love you, and thanks for the music. Knowing you has made me a better person, changed my life, and of course thanks for the music”!

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I had a really nice time yesterday doing a master class for the drummers in the Juilliard School’s jazz program. First of all I was thrilled to get the call as I spent 5 long productive years in the building. Anyway what a beautiful set up they have now. When I went to Juilliard there was no jazz program and Wynton Marsalis, Dan Block, and Rob Waring, were the only jazz players in the school, but we studied classical music at school. Now there is a separate wing for the jazz department, and the director Carl Allen has assembled an incredible faculty and curriculum for the program. Carl a well-known and seasoned veteran drummer apparently is doing an incredible job running this program. In the 3-4 hours I spent there yesterday, I was greeted by many of my favorite musicians from the faculty. Had a little hang with Frank Kimbarro, Ron Carter, Eddie Henderson, Rodney Jones, Carl Allen, Billy Drummond, and Kenny Washington. These guys are all top of there field. At the master class I had 5 or 6 drummers and Carl Allen, Billy Drummond, and Kenny Washington attending the class. Tough company to impress. It all went well and was a really nice loose environment to teach in. Basically I was there to help the drummers open up more to the vibes and the harmonic language skills needed to play jazz. They are great young drummers already or they would not be at Juilliard, but widening the scope is a great thing for them. That is the goal of course.

I was so honored that Carl Allen, Billy Drummond, and Kenny Washington were there. ALl three are at the top of the drum world, and Kenny Washington and I have known each other 40 years. We met in high school at Music and Art High School in NYC when we were 13 or 14 years old. He was then and continues to be a true be bop master on the drums. A jazz master as are all the names listed above, but Kenny was playing with Betty Carter and Johnny Griffin when he was 17 or 18 years old, and he never attended college. The music was his college, and he is a true master. Just goes to show you if you want to learn something you can do it yourself. All the recordings are out there for you to draw from, transcribe, and simply memorize. Kenny desperately as a youngster wanted to sound like Philly Joe Jones. He memorized and mastered that style, and turned it into a huge career, and he developed his own sound. Just amazing!! Great to see Kenny. He had been teaching all day and waited a few hours just to see my master class. I was so happy. Then Kenny and I took a walk down to the 3rd floor to try and find our great friend and colleague from high school Danny Druckman, who is currently director of the percussion dept at Juilliard, as well as a percussionist with the New York Philharmonic. We did not find Danny, but I showed Kenny the infamous orchestra rehearsal room 309. I explained to him how this is where Danny Druckman and I spent countless hours rehearsing with the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Sir George Solti, Sixten Ehrling, Zubin Mehta, Herbert Von Karajan, and so many more genius conductors who came through Juilliard week to week for concerts. The room has an incredible feeling. You walk in this room and you can feel the history. I sure did!!

Afterwards a little hang at a local restaurant with Rodney Jones who has been one of my best friends for around 40 years as well. He is absolutely the most incredible  person. Highly accomplished spiritually, as well as being one of the globes finest guitarists and teachers. All in all a great day, a thrill for me, and a great honor to be called upon to do the master class at Juilliard.