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The life and times of Papa Jo Jones, gifted raconteur and one of the greatest drummers in the history of jazz

Published:
Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones
By Papa Jo Jones
As Told to Albert Murray
Edited by Paul Devlin
Afterword by Phil Schaap
University of Minnesota Press
Available: October 2011

The things that I have, I'll give to you. This is my legacy with you, Albert. This is my last hoo-rah. So begins the autobiography of Jonathan David Samuel Jones—or as the world better knows him, Papa Jo Jones. Playing with Count Basie and his orchestra when they exploded out of Kansas City in 1936 and took the world by storm, Jones went on to inspire generations of jazz drummers, but until now few have had access to his own remarkable story.

Rifftide presents Jones's inimitable life and opinions, as originally told by Jones to the prominent jazz historian and novelist Albert Murray and now transcribed, arranged, and introduced by Paul Devlin. Drawn from fourteen tapes recorded over eight years beginning in 1977, Rifftide is an impressionistic series of riffs and tales by Jones: his life as a musician on the road in segregated America, his outstanding solo career following his years with the Basie band, and his interactions with iconic artists and cultural figures of the time, including Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bill “Bojangles" Robinson, and Satchell Paige.

A true American original and jazz luminary, Papa Jo Jones bedazzled and intrigued many with his outrageous, volatile personality and his innovative drumming—and nowhere does his fierce intellect and humor shine more marvelously than in his life's telling. With a fascinating introduction and annotations by Paul Devlin and an afterword by Phil Schaap, jazz historian and longtime friend of Jones, Rifftide reveals a man at the forefront of both a whole new form of music and a country in the midst of incredible turmoil and opportunity. As Jones himself puts it: Listen man, I've had a hell of a time . . .

Papa Jo Jones (1911-1985) was one of the most influential jazz drummers of all time. He played with Count Basie and his orchestra from 1936 until he entered the army in 1944, and again from 1946 to 1948. He also played on Billie Holiday's early records. From the late forties on, Jones had a spectacular solo career, playing with Jazz at the Philharmonic and the Newport Jazz Festival, recording under his own name, and playing on albums by Duke Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, and many others.

Albert Murray was a cofounder of Jazz at Lincoln Center. His many books include Train Whistle Guitar and Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie.

Paul Devlin is a doctoral student in the English Department at Stony Brook University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Slate, the Root, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.

Phil Schaap has broadcast jazz on New York City's WKCR for more than forty years. He taught at Princeton University and currently teaches at Julliard. He is the curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center.


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