Drumming Innovators: Papa Jo Jones

Papa Jo Jones

“Papa” Jo Jones was the first great drummer to play with legendary big band leader Count Basie. Jones (not to be confused with hard-bop drummer “Philly” Joe Jones) was in the Basie band from 1935–1948. His tenure there yielded many innovations that paved the way for the future of jazz drumming.

Hi-Hat Master

While many drummers were just beginning to grasp the concept of hi-hat timekeeping in the mid-’30s, Jones emerged as the instrument’s master by then. With seeming effortlessness, he pulled all manner of color and shading out of the hats. Jones was also one of the first to play the hi-hat half open, creating a smooth legato sound that set the stage for the emergence of the ride cymbal in the 1940s.

Bass Drum Dancer

Jones also brought a lighter touch to the bass drum, allowing him and his bandmates in Basie’s “All American Rhythm Section” (bass player Walter Page and guitarist Freddie Green), to unite in one living, breathing pulse. Their “four-to-the-bar” feel on swing-era classics like “One O’Clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” drove dancers to a frenzy and set a new standard for what a big band could sound like.

Brush Wizard

Jones’ biggest accomplishment was his innovative brush style, which evolved from imitating the many tap dancers he’d worked with as a young man (particularly the legendary Bill “Bojangles” Robinson). Jones’ “sweep” sound (an integral part of the brush vocabulary we use today), was gleaned from “sand dancers,” who would sprinkle sand on the ground or stage, then drag their feet lightly over the grains to get a hissing effect.

Daniel Glass is the drummer for Royal Crown Revue and coauthor of the award-winning Commandments Of Early Rhythm And Blues Drumming. To hear audio versions of “Moment In History,” visit danielglass.com.