Jazz Bassist Darryl Jones on How to Listen Hyper-Vigilantly
Bassist Darryl Jones should be a household name. His fluid, funky low end has supported at least a dozen of the biggest concert draws of the last 30 years, starting with Miles Davis' band when he was just 21. When Sting left the Police for a solo career in the mid-'80s, Jones was the man he hired to play bass. He supported Madonna in her prime on the Blond Ambition tour and for the last 20 years he has played on every gig and album by the Rolling Stones. Now, for the first time in his career, Jones is stepping into the spotlight.
Alongside keyboardist John Beasley and famed session drummer Ndugu Chancler, Jones has launched a new project called 3 Brave Souls. All three men worked for Miles Davis but their tenures did not overlap. Beasley and Jones became close in a Miles alumni band; when Chancler became available, the trio buckled down and recorded their self-titled album of groove-slathered funk, in two weeks
"When we were in the studio, John said, 'It'd be nice if we had one or two vocal tunes.' I chimed in and said I had a tune that might be good for that and he made me a man of my word," says a bemused Jones by phone. "That's my first real lead on a record."
Raised on a steady diet of jazz and soul in Chicago, Jones wandered from the drums to the guitar before settling on the electric bass. He started gigging and recording while still a teenager with artists like Pops Staples and regional blues star Little Oscar. Through his friend Vince Wilburn Jr, who happened to be Miles Davis' nephew, Jones landed an audition with the Prince of Darkness, lasting with him for four years during the 1980s.
"One of the most important things that I learned from working with Miles was to listen actively to the musicians around you. It's one of the things that allows the magic in music to happen," says Jones. "If you are in your house late at night and you hear an unfamiliar sound, there is a way that you listen that is very different from when you are listening to the radio in the shower. That kind of hyper vigilant listening, where you are not only listening to what the musicians are playing but are trying to tune into what the musicians intention is. That kind of attention is what allows the kind of music that Miles has been so famous for to occur."
Within 10 years of joining Miles' band, Jones found himself filling the bass chair for the Rolling Stones. After befriending Keith Richards, he aced his audition and seamlessly switched from jazz legends to rock legends. Soon he was playing in front of crowds of over one hundred thousand people, eventually peaking in 2006 in Rio de Janeiro with an audience estimated at 1.5 million. "That was kind of transcendent. I remember Keith starting 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and the feeling from the audience...When there are that many people there, you can physically feel it."
Through it all Jones has kept his funky chops in tact. It's hard to imagine a jazz musician ever getting the chance to play before more than a few thousand people, but it doesn't seem to have fazed the low-key Jones. In his opinion, an intimate jazz venue can be just as rewarding as playing to a crowd the size of Rhode Island. Discovering a new element of expression in his early '50s seems to have really helped. "I'm excited about beginning vocals as a secondary instrument. I really do love lyrics and singing and I looking forward to get more experience doing it," he says. "And hopefully I'll get better at it."
3 Brave Souls play this Friday at the Kirk Douglas Theater tonight as part of the 20th anniversary of the Jazz Bakery.
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