Thad Jones was born in Pontiac, Michigan on March 28, 1923, into a family that must be considered along with the Marsalises to be among America's greatest jazz clans. His older brother and pianist Hank lived to be 91 and played in his beloved lyrical style through every era and in every style; swing and big band and bop, backing vocalists and playing solo. Thads younger brother Elvin was one of the most virtuosic and influential drummers in jazz history, also enjoying a long career shining in many different genres of jazz. Thad was self-taught, and clearly possessed genes and natural abilities that ran deep in this incredible musical family.
After spending time in the military and honing his formidable trumpet skills while playing in bands centered in the Midwest, Thad joined the Count Basie Orchestra in 1954, becoming a featured soloist on some of the bands greatest tunes and soon becoming an arranger for the group as well, writing about two dozen arrangements in his near-decade with Basie. In 1963 Thad left the Basie Orchestra to become an independent studio musician and arranger in the thriving New York City jazz world. He and drummer Mel Lewis soon hit upon the idea of starting a working big band that would be a vehicle for some of NYC's best and busiest musicians to jam and work on ideas and compositions, and this eventually became the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. After playing at various clubs, in 1966 they approached Max Gordon, owner of the famed Village Vanguard, and began a regular gig there which amazingly continues to this day, as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, currently under the leadership of trombonist John Mosca.
Thad took a teaching position at William Paterson University in New Jersey in 1972, where he conducted the student big band and taught arranging and other classes. This was a pioneering move, as he became one of the first musicians at his level to embark on a career as a full-time professor, and continued until he decided to move to Europe. Thad spent most of the late 1970s and the first half of the 1980s in Denmark, where many American jazz musicians had taken up residence. While there, he took over the Danish Radio Big Band and turned it into one of the worlds best ensembles. He also composed, arranged, taught, and continued to study during this period. He moved back to the U.S. in 1985 to take over the leadership of his late mentor Count Basie's band. Unfortunately, he soon became ill and had to step down, and moved back to Europe where he was hospitalized for months. He passed away at the age of 63 in August 1986, leaving the world without one of the very best creators and interpreters of the jazz idiom.
Dr. David Demsey, Coordinator of Jazz Studies and Curator of the Thad Jones Archive at William Paterson University, has referred to Thad as a "savant" when it comes to his jazz arranging abilities. He shares a story about a vocal session Thad had written charts for, and one of the arrangements was apparently not in the singer's key. So late one night Thad took the chart home, and while everyone expected it to be transposed for the next day's session, apparently he brought in a chart that was completely new and had been done in a few hours. And, of course it was spectacular. Few people have ever heard a great-sounding band in their head like Thad Jones did; every nuance of every instrument, every melody, every dynamic and shade of color played out vividly in his incredibly fertile mind, and these newly-discovered charts are more examples of this. They also show his singular ability to write music for others, which clearly reflected the style and sound of the artists he worked for, yet firmly reflected Thads own very unique musical footprint as well.
When one attends a jazz concert and hears a band playing a collection of songs by a group of jazz's greatest arrangers, Thad's still stand out. The professionalism is one thing, but what really sears the Thad Jones trademark in one's ears is the depth of his art: the charts exude what Dr. Demsey has so ideally termed "a rhythmic adeptness and an ingenious thematic coherence." His arrangements are full of life, often very complex, yet retain a playful exuberance that makes them so memorable and enjoyable to hear, to learn, and to play. They contain intricacies which are appreciated by the very best players yet at the same time have such harmonic richness and bluesy warmth that even the most casual listener can truly love them as well.
We are especially proud to be working with Thad's widow Lis Jones, Phil Kurnit (legal counsel for the Estate of Thad Jones), John Mosca (leader of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra), Dr. David Demsey (chair of the jazz studies department at William Paterson University and director of the Thad Jones Archive), and John La Barbera and gratefully acknowledge the contributions they have made towards our publishing efforts.
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