(b Pontiac, MI, 28 March 1923; d Copenhagen, 20 Aug 1986). Cornetist, trumpeter, flugelhorn player, composer, and bandleader. He taught himself trumpet from about the age of 13, and by the time he was 16 was playing professionally with his older brother (1) Hank Jones, and in summer jobs with Sonny Stitt and Big Nick Nicholas. After performing in army bands (1943–6), with which he toured overseas, he worked in midwestern dance and show bands. From 1950 to 1953, apart from a period of touring in the show Larry Steele’s Smart Affairs, he appeared with his younger brother (3) Elvin Jones in Billy Mitchell’s jazz quintet in Detroit. Having deputized for Clark Terry in Count Basie’s big band in Boston for one week in 1952, Jones joined Basie from May 1954 through February 1963. Initially while with Basie he also worked in the Jazz Composers’ Workshop of Charles Mingus (1954–5), who produced Jones’s first sessions as a leader.
After leaving Basie, Jones worked with George Russell for about six months, and toured to Paris. On returning to New York he joined Gerry Mulligan’s band, which included Mel Lewis. At the Scene in New York in autumn 1964 Jones and Lewis led a group that included Pepper Adams, Jerry Dodgion, Quentin Jackson, and Benny Powell. From these experiences there emerged, in December 1965, the outstanding 18-piece Jones–Lewis band (see fig.1b) which, beginning in February 1966, played regularly on Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. This arrangement lasted for well over a decade and gave Jones ample opportunity to display his gifts as a conductor, composer, arranger, and flugelhorn soloist. Later the group performed in nightclubs, appeared at collegiate and festival concerts, and undertook tours of Japan, the USSR, and Europe. At various times its distinguished personnel included the trumpeters Bill Berry, Richard Williams, Snooky Young, Jimmy Maxwell, Jimmy Owens, Marvin Stamm, Danny Moore, Al Porcino, Cecil Bridgewater, Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff, Randy Brecker, and Waymon Reed; the trombonists Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Knepper, Garnett Brown, Jackson, Eddie Bert, Powell, and Janice Robinson; the saxophonists Jerome Richardson, Dodgion, Adams, Eddie Daniels, Lew Tabackin, Joe Farrell, Joe Temperley, Ed Xiques, Billy Harper, Frank Foster, and Greg Herbert; the pianists Roland Hanna, Mickey Tucker, Harold Danko, and Mike Wolff; and the bass players Richard Davis, George Mraz, Steve Gilmore, and Rufus Reid.
In 1979, after injuring his lip, Jones took up valve trombone. In that same year he ended his partnership with Lewis and settled in Denmark, having already worked there from 1977 to 1978 as the leader of the Radioens Big Band; he formed a new big band, the Thad Jones Eclipse, which recorded in 1979 and 1980. He returned to the USA early in 1985, following Basie’s death, to assume the leadership of the Count Basie Orchestra, a position he retained until February 1986.