Willie Jones III, one of the world's leading jazz drummers, headlined an all-star sextet at Chicago’s fabled Jazz Showcase this past weekend. In addition to honoring those who mentored and influenced his style (including the late greats Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey and Billy Higgins), Jones and his group paid homage to Roy Hargrove, for whom most of them had shared the bandstand, relating stories and reflecting on the influence Roy had on them and the music.
With Jones playing drums and leading the band, the sextet included Justin Robinson (sax), Joe Magnarelli (trumpet and flugelhorn), Gerald Cannon (bass), Keith Brown (piano) and Renee Neufville (vocals). This accomplished group was clearly enjoying their collective talents with many tunes for Hargrove as well as some of their own.
From 1995 through 1998, Jones was a member of Arturo Sandoval's band and is featured on Sandoval's GRAMMY® award winning release Hot House. He started playing with Roy Hargrove when he moved to New York from Los Angeles in 1997. Jones went on to join the bands of Horace Silver, Cedar Walton and can be heard on a host of recordings including Kurt Elling's GRAMMY® nominated Night Moves and Eric Reed's Here. When he is not leading a band or playing in someone else’s, he is teaching or recording.
Jones experienced firsthand how Hargrove would “bring it” every night. As he told Jazz Times in an interview: “He always played like it was the last time he did a gig. You never know who’s listening, whether you’re playing a 2 a.m. set at Smalls or a Friday night at the Vanguard. 110%, bringing it every night. That’s what he brought to the bandstand every time. It was almost too much. We’d be out for six weeks in Europe or wherever and we’d come back and he’s at Smalls that night at a jam session. That’s how he lived. That’s the most important thing I got from him—what to bring to the bandstand musically and energy-wise.”