Thad Jones Day

March 28, 1923 – August 20, 1986

A birthday tribute to the cornetist and arranger

Cornetist, arranger-composer and bandleader Thaddeus Jones was born on March 28, 1923 in Pontiac, Michigan.

The younger brother of pianist Hank Jones and the older brother of drummer Elvin Jones, Thad was self-taught on the trumpet (starting when he was 13), playing with his brothers locally in the late 1930s.

After serving in the Army during 1943-46, Jones worked in Oklahoma City and then became an important part of the viable Detroit jazz scene, being a regular member of Billy Mitchell‘s quintet (1950-53).

Jones became well known while with Count Basie’s Orchestra (1954-63), sharing the trumpet features with Joe Newman and taking a famous solo on Basie’s hit record of “April In Paris.”

Jones’ harmonically advanced solos and crisp sound can also be heard on some Charles Mingus recordings from 1954.

After the Basie years, Jones worked with Gerry Mulligan and George Russell, and co-led a quintet with Pepper Adams in 1965.

In Dec. 1965 Jones debuted a big band that he co-led with Mel Lewis, featuring some of New York’s top musicians at the Village Vanguard nearly every Monday night from Feb. 1966 on.

One of the finest big bands of the time, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was particularly notable for Jones’ arrangements (which often featured a soprano sax in the lead) and his compositions which included “A Child Is Born,” “Central Park North,” “Tiptoe,” “Mean What You Say,” “Little Pixie” and “Fingers.”

Jones surprised everyone by leaving the orchestra and the United States suddenly in 1978, moving to Denmark, heading the Danish Radio Big Band and leading the Thad Jones Eclipse, often playing valve trombone rather than cornet due to some lip problems.

He returned to the United States to lead the Count Basie Orchestra in 1985 but bad health forced him to give up that job in February 1986, passing away six months later.

Here is the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra performing “Central Park North” live in Denmark in 1969.


Thad Jones, flugelhorn, conductor
Al Porcino, trumpet
Richard Williams, trumpet
Snooky Young, trumpet
Danny Moore, trumpet
Eddie Bert, trombone
Jimmy Knepper, trombone
Garnett Brown, trombone
Cliff Heather, bass trombone
Jerome Richardson, soprano sax
Jerry Dodgion, alto sax
Eddie Daniels, clarinet, tenor sax
Joe Henderson, tenor sax
Pepper Adams, baritone sax
Roland Hanna, piano
Richard Davis, bass
Mel Lewis, drums

-Scott Yanow