Jazz pianist and composer Hank Jones, a musician who has made hundreds of recordings and played with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, has died, his manager said Monday. He was 91.
Jones, whose 70-year career included a 2009 Grammy lifetime achievement award and a 2008 National Medal of Arts, died Sunday night at a New York hospital after a brief illness, Jean-Pierre Leduc said.
He began performing at age 13, playing with territory bands that toured Michigan and Ohio. During those tours he met saxophonist Lucky Thompson, who helped him land a job in trumpeter Hot Lips Page’s band in 1944.
After moving to New York in 1943, Jones embraced bebop and toured with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1947-51. As part of the ensemble, he became Ella Fitzgerald’s pianist, touring with her from 1948-53.
In 1962, he accompanied actress Marilyn Monroe on the piano when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. In a 2005 interview on National Public Radio, he described that day.
“She did 16 bars: eight bars of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ and eight bars of ‘Thanks for the Memories,’” he said. “So in 16 bars, we rehearsed eight hours. … She was very nervous and upset. She wasn’t used to that kind of thing. And, I guess, who wouldn’t be nervous singing “Happy Birthday” to the president?”
He also worked with such consummate musicians as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Milt Jackson and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. He joined CBS as studio pianist, a position he held for 17 years, performing on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and others.
His most recent recordings were “Pleased to Meet You,” an album with pianist Oliver Jones and an as-yet untitled recording of spirituals with bassist Charlie Haden, due out next year, Leduc said.
Below, Hank Jones performs solo at Carnegie Hall — April 6, 1994 — as part of the Verve 50th anniversary celebrations.