April 28, 1952: The Jones Brothers of Boston
On April 28, 1952, the Jones Brothers celebrated 15 years in show business at the Fensgate Hotel.
Hear “jazz” and “Jones Brothers” in the same sentence, and most people think of Hank, Thad, and Elvin from Detroit. But the the Jones Brothers partying at the Fensgate were actually Bostonians—Herb, Clyde, and Max. Like the more famous trio from the Motor City, these three could play piano, trumpet, and drums, but there the similarity ends. Unlike the younger Joneses of Detroit, the Bostonians were based firmly in swing, and singing was a key part of their act. They were a vocal harmony trio playing their own accompaniment.
Max and Clyde were singing together as early as 1933, and Herb joined them in 1937 to mark the official beginning of the Jones Brothers. They were a hit almost immediately, and by 1939 were opening for the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Ritz in Boston, then at the Panther Room in Chicago’s Hotel Sherman. They also opened for other big bands, including those of Harry James and Jack Teagarden. Don Redman wrote some of their arrangements.
The Joneses described themselves and their style of music as “sophisticated.” They worked some of the top night spots in the nation, including the Copacabana in New York and the Latin Quarter in Boston, and wore tuxedos on stage into the 1950s. They also broke the color line in many of the places they worked. Herb Jones told an interviewer in 1985 that when the group played in Palm Springs, California, “we were the only three black people in the whole town.”
Even though the Joneses grew up on jazz and played it in their sets, they never called themselves a jazz group. They were entertainers, working that once-fertile area between jazz and pop, and even though they might have been the best-known group doing so in Boston, they had plenty of quality competition. Others on the jazz-and-standards circuit were the Sammy Lowe Trio with Don Francis and Jimmy Alford, the Paul Clement Trio featuring vibist Lou Magnano, and the Storm Trio, with the husband-and-wife team of pianist Bob and drummer Fran Tyler. These groups worked for months on end in downtown rooms like the 1-2-3 Lounge and the Saxony Lounge.
The Jones Brothers were active into the 1970s, but their recording career was limited to three 78s in the 1940s, on the Majestic and Gold Medal labels. After their retirement, these sides, plus some 1960s radio transcriptions, were collected on the LP Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon on the Whisky, Women, And label (KM-708).
“Ain’t She Pretty” was released in 1946 on Majestic 1038, but it was Buddy Greco who had a big hit with the tune.