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A jazz veteran whose ebullient nature, muted trumpet style, and scat singing style brought him steady commercial success in a series of albums for Capitol and Decca from the mid-1950s through the end of the 60s. And a few album covers featuring women in tight pants and even tighter sweaters didn't hurt.
Jones began playing professionally in his teens, starting out with bands on the riverboats that still worked the Ohio River in the late 1920s. He joined Jimmie Lunceford's band in 1931 and Lunceford often brought him up front to do comic vocal numbers with violinist Stuff Smith. He moved through some of the best black bands of the 1930s and 40s--McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, and then, for an eleven-year stretch, Cab Calloway.
In the early 1950s, he worked with pianist Earl Hines in a small combo. Then, after a stint in the pit orchestra of Porgy and Bess on Broadway, he began playing New York City clubs with a rhythm section. To his surprise, audiences loved the combo, seeing Jones as perhaps a younger version of Louis Armstrong. Capitol signed him to a recording contract, and several of his early albums sold well enough to stake places in the Top 40 lists. His album, I Dig Chicks won a Grammy Award in 1959 for Best Jazz Performance by a group, and his singles of "On the Street Where You Live" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" sold over a million copies each.
Capitol dropped him in the mid-1960s when the sales began to fade, but he was picked up by Decca and released several more albums with his quartet, including a Tijuana Brass wannabe album. He continued to perform and recorded occasional mainstream jazz albums through the end of the 1980s. His final performance was in 1993, for a benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America at the famed Blue Note night club in Greenwich Village.
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