Thaddeus Joseph Jones (March 28, 1923 – August 21, 1986) was an American jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader. Thad Jones was born in Pontiac, Michigan, to a musical family of ten (an older brother was pianist Hank Jones and a younger brother was drummer Elvin Jones). Thad Jones was a self-taught musician, performing professionally by the age of sixteen. He served in U.S. Army bands during World War II (1943–46). After Army service including an association with the U.S. Military School of Music and working with area bands in Des Moines and Oklahoma City, Thad became a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in May 1954. He was featured as a soloist on such well-known tunes as “April in Paris”, “Shiny Stockings” and “Corner Pocket”. However, his main contribution was his nearly two dozen arrangements and compositions for the Basie Orchestra, including “The Deacon”, “H.R.H.” (Her Royal Highness, in honor of the band’s command performance in London), “Counter Block”, and lesser known gems such as “Speaking of Sounds”. His hymn-like ballad “To You” was performed by the Basie band combined with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in their only recording together, and the recording Dance Along With Basie contains nearly an entire album of Jones’ uncredited arrangements of standard tunes. Jones left the Basie Orchestra in 1963 to become a freelance arranger and studio player in New York. In 1965, he and drummer Mel Lewis formed The Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra. The group initially began with informal late-night jam sessions among New York’s top studio musicians. The group eventually began performing at the Village Vanguard in February 1966, to wide acclaim, and continued with Jones in the lead for twelve years. They won a 1978 Grammy Award for their album Live in Munich. Jones also taught at William Paterson College in New Jersey, which is now the site of the Thad Jones Archive, containing pencil scores and vintage photos as part of the Living Jazz Archives. Jones’ big-band arranging style was unique, especially from the standpoint of featuring dissonant voicings in a tonal context. This required the members of his big band to play correctly in tune, otherwise the dense chords he wrote would not sound correct. Minor 2nds and major 7ths are often featured in his voicings, especially when the entire band plays a long, powerful chord that some would describe as having “bite”. One of the more notable albums he made in this regard is Suite for Pops recorded on the A&M Records Horizon label (now out of print) in the early 1970s. It also featured the intense bebop improvisations of saxophonist Billy Harper and the high note screech playing of lead trumpet player Jon Faddis. In 1978, Thad suddenly moved to Copenhagen, Denmark (to the great surprise of his New York band mates), where several other American jazz musicians had gone to live. Upon Thad’s 1978 departure to live in Europe, the band continued as the Mel Lewis Orchestra until Lewis’s death in February 1990, after which they performed as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, still including several Thad Jones alumni, continuing the Monday night Village Vanguard tradition into its fifth decade. Jones resided in Copenhagen from 1978–1984. He formed a new big band Eclipse which he recorded a live album with, Eclipse. Several Americans were on the album, pianist Horace Parlan, baritonist Sahib Shihab, trumpeter Tim Hagans and trombonist/vocalist Richard Boone along with trombonists Bjarne Thanning & Ture Larsen, trumpeter Lars Togeby, altoists Ole Thøger & Michael Hove, tenor saxophonist Bent Jædig and Jesper Lundgaard on bass. He further composed for The Danish Radio Big Band and taught jazz at the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen. He studied composition formally during this period, as well as taking up the valve trombone. In February 1985, he returned to the U.S. to take the leadership of the Basie Orchestra upon his former leader’s death, fronting the Basie band in numerous tours, and writing arrangements for recordings and performances with vocalist Caterina Valente and Manhattan Transfer, but had to step down due to ill health. He returned to his home in Copenhagen for the last few months of his life. He died on August 21, 1986, after being hospitalized for months, but his cause of death was not published. In later years his playing ability was overshadowed by his composing and arranging skills. His best known composition is the standard “A Child is Born”. At the time of his death he had a six-year-old child, also named Thad Jones, with his wife Lis Jones, a daughter Thedia and a son Bruce. He is buried in Copenhagen’s Vestre Kirkegård (Western Churchyard Cemetery).
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