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Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones Paperback – September 19, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Jo Jones, an elegant, swinging dude, always had a style of his own. When he was with us, you could hear him, feel him—everything was right there." —Count Basie

"I first met Jo Jones at the RKO Theater in Boston when I was a teenager in the early 1940s and we were friends until he passed away. He was my first influence and my major influence. He was ‘Papa’ Jo to me before they gave him that title. He was like a father to me. For drummers of my generation, Jo was the president of the drums just like Lester Young was president of the tenor saxophone. Jo loved to talk, and when he spoke it was almost as if he was playing the drums: you’d give him your undivided attention. Rifftide conveys a fine sense of his voice and the larger than life dimensions of his personality." —Roy Haynes

"Albert Murray has helped keep the incomparable Jo Jones alive through the voice of Count Basie in Good Morning Blues and fictionally in The Magic Keys, but in Rifftide, thanks to the persistence of editor Paul Devlin, we get to hear Jo himself in all his dynamic, adrenalized, anecdotal, no-bull glory—riffing with words as heartily as he did on the hi-hat." —Gary Giddins, author of Warning Shadows and Jazz

"Rifftide is a gem of a book about one of the forgotten founding fathers of Swing. Jo Jones was more than a jazz genius—he was also one of the great characters and chroniclers of American life during the Swing Era. Based on extensive oral interviews and years of painstaking research, Rifftide is a terrific source not only for students of jazz, but also American history, African-American studies, linguistics, and sociology." —Debby Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

"Papa Jo Jones is Brer Rabbit with a drum kit and opposable thumbs. In his own spellbinding voice, musical history and philosophy come alive on the page." —Mat Johnson, author of Pym

"With a pronounced irascible streak to match his heterodox approach to drumming, Papa Jo Jones (1911-85) was an ideal candidate to star in the kind of book that delights jazz fans: the straight-talking, defiantly espousing firsthand record. Anyone interested in authenticity of voice is going to be on the verge of fist-pumping the air throughout, or else exclaiming, ‘You tell it like it is, baby,’ as if partaking in a call-and-response with the book." —The New York Times

"Devlin does the rare work of presenting the intersection of musicianship and folklore in a volume that belongs in any serious jazz or African American culture collection." —Library Journal

"It is a very entertaining, thought provoking, and insightful read in better understanding such a burning talent and innovator. This is Papa Jo Jones, an American original through his riffing and unvarnished commentary on life and music." —JazzTimes Magazine

"Rifftide is rife with stories of musical ingenuity amid the racial strife of the swing era and beyond." —The Root

"Rifftide is an easy, fun read that I'll keep returning to." —Ethan Iverson

About the Author

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (September 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816673012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816673018
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,049,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I heartily recommend this book to all who are even remotely interested in Jazz,Grande ICON Jazz Musicians and Drummers in general. I can honestly say that I played Piano many times opposite Jo Jones at the Embers, a posh East Side Boiterie in New York City. Occasionally he was Drummer with my Jazz Trio in New York at other venues..

However, the Jo that the Author knew was not the Jo that I knew, meaning the Jo I knew had not an ounce of resentment of any people of other races. He was totally in love with life, and with performing on Drums, and if it was intermission he would go to the Bar [at the Embers] and get a "taste" He would use a swizzle stick or anything at hand and start playing something like the "Poet and Peasant Overture on a leatherette barstool.... Just with those very primitive tools.... And the amazing thing was that the sound was there albeit hushed, and I had NO problem knowing what he was playing... Oh yes the stories about his "Lucky Shoes" are totally true..
Like I am very surprised the author did not know about that collaberation and the writing of the Bop Dictionary. One of his favorite buddies was Slim Gaillard, outrageous Bop Guitar-Piano player.... Slim and Jo invented a whole new Bop language and called it McVoutie, which the true meanings of the words were only known by those two and they would put us on with carrying on whole conversations using this totally unique lexicon. Like "Reet, Vout. and Mel-oh-roon-ee-oh meant great! AND together they wrote a rather short Lexicon of their invention! It is still on the internet if you look it up1 They show the original.

Jo loved all people and Musicians in general.... He was very educated about Classical music, and Truth be known....
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I'm going to immediately set expectations about this book: if you are searching for information and opinions about drumming and other drummers, this is not the book for you. I suggest that, instead, you read the information-rich chapter on Papa Jo Jones in Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years. Next, augment that excellent book with Drums By Jo Jones. Then marvel at how he gracefully moves around the drum kit in the second segment of this video: Jazz Icons: Coleman Hawkins Live in '62 & '64.

On the other hand, if you are seeking to understand Papa Jo Jones the man, along with his views on a myriad of topics then this book is a treasure. And as you come to understand him you may get a glimpse into how he came about and what molded him.

Most folks describe the book as having three parts: Paul Devlin's Preface that discusses the trials and tribulations of transcribing interviews that Albert Murray conducted with Papa Jo, then Rifftide - Jo Jones in Jo Jones' own words, and an Afterward by Phil Shaap. I would like to add the Editor's Notes, which comprise 28 pages of invaluable information that is like the Rosetta Stone for the preceding sections.

Of the principals involved in creating this book, the editor - Paul Devlin - never met Papa Jo in person. That does not diminish his importance because transcribing and making sense of the interview tapes were daunting tasks. That is not to say that Albert Murray's interview sessions were easy either.
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This book began as a series of taped interviews with Papa Jo by Albert Murray. Paul Devlin transcribed them and edited them into a more or less continuous narrative with Murray's questions omitted. Also included is a brief, hyperbolic speech that Jones gave to the Duke Ellington Society (also recorded by Murray.)
First we get a 16 page editor's preface on how he came to edit the book. You can safely skip this as it's summarized in the 24 page intro. You could probably skip that also, but you'd miss some valuable background info such as "Apart from knocking out a policeman in Pittsburgh in 1937 and being briefly institutionalized in a hospital for the criminally insane, all seems to have gone fairly smoothly for Jo during the height of the swing era."
In his conversations with the editor, Murray compared Jones' speech to James Joyce's writing in "Finnegans Wake." I thought that this must be some sort of pretentious nonsense until I started reading the 85 pages of transcript. Half the time I didn't have the slightest idea what Jones was talking about. For instance: "No little girl - college notwithstanding - nobody ever been as clean as Little Rock, Arkansas, with them brooms that they made, the alley, the trash: you could eat off the front porch. You know Baltimore, they scrub scrub. Nuh-uh. All them little girls, they had them little socks on, in the beauty parlor, it was boomin', no ashy legs, ding ding ding, I'm sorry: they lived in the beauty parlor."
There is a certain amount of rhythm in Jones speech and it may be best to just read it as music; if something makes sense every once in awhile, that's a bonus. Some of the allusions are explained in 27 pages of footnotes at the back of the book.
There's also a 23 page afterword by Phil Schaap, thankfully in plain English.
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