DATE June 20, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Hank Jones discusses his musical career
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is Hank Jones. As the jazz critic Whitney Balliett wrote, `Jones is
widely regarded as the dean of jazz pianists.' Balliett says, `Jones has a
quietly lyrical attentive style so subtle and technically assured as to be
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Jones is the last surviving brother in one of the most remarkable
families in jazz history. Elvin played with John Coltrane and become one of
the most influential jazz drummers. Thad played trumpet and co-led one of the
most important big bands of the post-big band era. Hank Jones, who turns 87
next month, was the oldest of the brothers and the first to leave home. He
toured with jazz at the Philharmonic, recorded with Charlie Parker,
accompanied Ella Fitzgerald and worked for many years as a house pianist at
CBS. He's recorded many albums as a leader and a sideman. Six CDs featuring
him have been released this year, including one led by Joe Lovano called
"Joyous Encounter." We're listening to "Easy To Love" from the new Hank Jones
album "For My Father."
(Soundbite of "Easy To Love")
GROSS: That's Hank Jones at the piano from his new album "For My Father."
Hank Jones, welcome to FRESH AIR. We're so glad to have you on the show.
Mr. HANK JONES (Pianist): Well, thank you, Terry. It's a pleasure being
GROSS: Let me start with what I know is a very obvious question, and it's
probably the question you've been most asked about your career, which is:
What do you think is the explanation for the fact that you and your late
brothers, Elvin and Thad Jones, became such great musicians? I mean, was
there something in your water? Was there something in your house? In your
family? What do you think explains it?
Mr. JONES: Well, the only thing in the water were parasites, but I think the
fact that both my mother and my father were musical had a lot to do with it,
you know. And we come from a very religious background. Both my mother and
my father were very religious. My father was a devout Christian all of his
life. And he taught us the things--moral values, I think, is something that
some parents don't teach their children. We learned--I learned that early on.
And my father, for instance, wouldn't even allow a pack of cards to be in the
house. He was against gambling, drinking, smoking, you name it. He was--you
know, he was a very, very devout person, and I think that had something to do
You see, he's made--my father's main thing was that he didn't object to music,
per se, but he thought that no jazz should ever be played in the church. And
he thought that if you had any kind of musical talent, it should be then
exhibited in the church in the form of accompanying choirs or playing church
music and so forth but never any jazz in Sunday and never played on Sunday,
by the way.
GROSS: Did you play in the church?
Mr. JONES: Yes, I played--I accompanied the junior choir and the senior
choir, both on organ and piano. And many, many years later I actually played
a jazz concert at a church in Tenafly, New Jersey, and the audience loved it.
In fact, they invited us to do it over again, but I felt somewhat guilty and I
just didn't want to do it again. I thought that my father might not have
GROSS: What are some of the things you think you learned about the piano and
about harmony and rhythm from playing in the church accompanying the choir?
Mr. JONES: Well, all of the church hymns that were played and sung, some of
which were written by Martin Luther, were all harmonically correct. And I
think that some of that carried over into my musical thinking, the phrases and
the--not the melodies particularly, but the way the hymns were phrased. And
the harmony that was used I'm sure carried over into my musical thinking.
GROSS: Now you made a great record of spirituals with the bass player Charlie
Haden; the album was called "Steal Away." Since we're talking about the
influence of the church on your music, I thought we might hear a track from
that now. How about "Go Down Moses"? Do you want to say anything about that?
Mr. JONES: Yes, let's--well, that was one of the hymns and one of the
spirituals that I heard in my younger days, in my youth. And that melody just
stuck in my mind. I could never--you know, it's still there. And as I said,
I grew up hearing that kind of music, and so it was the natural thing for both
Charlie and I to do that--because Charlie's musical--early--his musical
training early on also was heavily influence by the church. I think, though,
he had a small family group and I think they performed in churches quite a
GROSS: And on country radio stations.
Mr. JONES: Exactly. So his musical background was quite similar to mine, you
know, in that respect, yes.
GROSS: Well, here's "Go Down Moses," a duet with Charlie Haden on bass, my
guest Hank Jones at the piano, from their album "Steal Away."
(Soundbite of "Go Down Moses")
GROSS: That's my guest Hank Jones at the piano with Charlie Haden on bass
from their album "Steal Away," an album of hymns and spirituals.
Spirituals have obviously remained important to you.
Mr. JONES: Exactly.
GROSS: Are you a churchgoer, or are--do you follow in your father's footsteps
in terms of religion?
Mr. JONES: Yeah, I do. And, look, I have not gone--attended church as much
in my older life--you know, my later life as I did when I was young. Of
course, a lot of times when I was young, I didn't have a choice anyway because
my father took us there. But, no, I have gotten away from that. I still
feel--I'm a Christian, and I always will be. I've been a Christian since I
was 12 years old. I was baptized as a Christian, so I've always tried to live
that life. And I haven't gone to church as often as I would have liked to
because I'm on the road a lot, and that by--it's not an excuse, but it happens
to be a fact.
So my work sometimes compels me to work on Sundays, and this is something that
my father--he'd be--if he knew that I was doing it today, he'd be turning over
in his grave, you know. But he was bitterly against that, and I think in some
respects he was correct. But in--a lot of my work today happens on Sundays,
so you can't refuse to work on Sundays.
GROSS: Well, Hank Jones, we were just talking about the influence of the
church on your music. And, you know, you'd think that the fact that there was
so much music in your family is responsible, at least in part, for the fact
that you and your late brothers, Elvin and Thad, all turned out to be such
great musicians. Now you had a sister also who, I think, was, from what I've
read, a promising musician, but she died as a child.
Mr. JONES: Yes, she died as a child. She was 12 years old, and she died in
one of those funny accidents on a lake. See, there was--about a half a mile
from where we lived in Pontiac at the time, there was a lake. And in the
winter, this lake froze over, became--you know, ice became--on the surface.
But she and a bunch of girls went out on the ice, and apparently where they
went, at the point they went out, the ice was very thin, and she fell through
the ice and drowned. And there was a strong current in this particular lake,
and the current kind of swept her under. And it was very difficult for them
to get her out. So she was drowned in the event. But she was very talented.
At the age of 12, she was playing concerts. She was a child prodigy. And
GROSS: Was she older than you?
Mr. JONES: She was my older--she was the firstborn, actually. My mother
never got over it, actually. It was quite a shock to her.
GROSS: What about you? How did that change your life?
Mr. JONES: Well, I lost a sister. I lost somebody that I looked up to and
respected and looked to for guidance, and it left a big gap in my life. And I
think it just left a very, very large gap in the family's life because we all
missed her. She was the oldest, she was the firstborn and we all respected
and loved her. She was quite talented, you know.
GROSS: Were you already playing when she died?
Mr. JONES: I was taking lessons. See, at one time that--I had another sister
who just a little bit older than I. And the piano teacher would come to the
house and give my older sister, Olive, lessons. And then my sister Melinda
would take a lesson. Then I would take a lesson after they had finished. And
I learned something from their mistakes, I suppose. Also, I inherited the
frayed books that they had used.
And my mother didn't--of course, her idea was to have us all study, go to
Europe and study with the best teachers in Europe and so forth and so on. She
had great ambitions for us. But we--something happened along the way; it's a
thing called finances, which reared its ugly head. And my mother couldn't
afford to give us lessons, so my family--see, this was--you have to remember,
this was during the Depression. Work was very scarce. My father was lucky
enough to be able to work two, maybe three days a week. He was never out of
work, but of course the income was at a very low level. In fact, my mother
had to go out and do day work, ironing and so forth, cleaning houses for
people, to bring up the family income.
GROSS: My guest is the pianist Hank Jones. His latest CDs include "For My
Father" and "S'Wonderful." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is the pianist Hank Jones, and he
has a couple of new CDs. One of them is called "For My Father," and that's a
trio record with George Mraz on bass and Dennis Mackerel on drums. And then
he also has a collaborative album with the saxophonist Joe Lovano, and that
one is called "Joyous Encounter."
How old were you when you went to New York to play in '43 or '44?
Mr. JONES: I was 20, 21 then.
GROSS: And so you were performing, I think, on 52nd Street or near 52nd
Street, which was really quite a music scene in that period. Who were some of
the other musicians who were playing near where you were playing?
Mr. JONES: Well, right across the street was the club called the Three
Deuces. I was working with Hot Lips Page, Orion "Hot Lips" Page, at a place
called the ced--not The Cedar Gardens--the Onyx Club. And right across the
street, on 52nd Street, was a club called the Three Deuces. Well, over there
you had Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell, sometimes Al
Haig, sometimes Stan Levey on drums. And they were all about the same--Dizzy
was a little older. And Dizzy--Dizzy Gillespie, that is--had a big band about
that time, and the big band had broken up into this small group, and the small
group was playing at the Three Deuces. They were playing this new style of
music called bebop, a term that I have never been really happy with, but I
guess it described the music pretty much but not accurately.
Anyway, this is the kind of--the style of music these people were playing. I
was distracted by it. I thought it was an advance over what I'd been hearing
previously to that time. So I, unconsciously perhaps--or maybe
consciously--began to adapt some of this style into my own style of playing,
which was basically a two-handed style, perhaps in the style of Teddy Wilson,
Fats Waller at the time.
GROSS: Did you go through a period of frustration in which you were trying to
adapt your style to this new bebop sound? And, I mean, was there a period
when you couldn't quite figure out what--like, how to get it?
Mr. JONES: It meant that I had to listen to these things repeatedly over
time and perhaps night after night as long as I could because, you see,
between the sets that I played at The Onyx Club and the sets that the other
club was playing across the street, I had--there was maybe--What?--maybe 20
minutes between. So I had to go over and listen in 20 minutes as hard as I
could for several times during the night. And that way at the end of the
night, I'd have a pretty good idea of what was going on. I still couldn't
play it because I was still absorbing this style in my mind, you know. It
took quite a while. It didn't happen overnight, and I still don't really--I
haven't mastered it yet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Let's hear a recording that you made with Charlie Parker, and this is
from 1952. We'll hear "This Song is You," and it features you, Parker and Max
Roach on drums.
(Soundbite of "This Song is You")
GROSS: We heard my guest Hank Jones at the piano, with Charlie Parker.
My guest is Hank Jones, and he has a couple of new CDs. There's one that's
called "For My Father," which features George Mraz and Dennis Mackerel on bass
on drums respectively, and another which is called "Joyous Encounter," which
is his collaboration with Joe Lovano.
So, Hank Jones, when you were starting to record and when you moved to New
York, how old were your brothers Elvin and Thad, and at what stage in their
musical development were they?
Mr. JONES: Well, Elvin and Thad were both in Detroit at the time I came to
New York. And they were working at a club called the Blue Bird; I think it
was on Grand River Avenue. And they were working with musicians the likes of
J.J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, maybe even at times Charlie Parker and people like
that who came through Detroit to play. And Blue Bird was the club to play at
because it was one of the best known--probably the best-known jazz club in
Detroit at the time. And they were the house band there, so they had to play
with all these people that came through to play at the club. So by the time
they got to New York, they were already fairly familiar with the New York jazz
scene having heard these people in Detroit, you see. So...
GROSS: As the older brother, what kind of advice or help did you try to give
them when they were young?
Mr. JONES: Well, I guess I told them the same things that my father had tried
to tell me: you know, `Stay clear of all of these vicious habits that people
get into that their health--that deprive you of your health and eventually
probably your life as well.' And this is what happened to some of the younger
musicians who came to New York and fell into that kind of thing. Probably
they weren't able--see, if they had been able to resist that first attempt or
that first trial, they might have stayed clear of it. But a lot of them
couldn't resist; they wanted to try something new. So by the time they tried
something new, it got to be a habit. And when it became a habit, they were
slaves to the habit, and it took them down. This happened to a few young
But I tried to tell Thad and Elvin about things like this because I'd seen it
happen. And I had managed to steer clear of it myself because I had no desire
to go that route. So I guess they listened, at least partially, and it
probably helped them. At least I hope it did.
GROSS: I believe while you were in New York that Art Tatum became something
of a mentor to you. How well did you know him? What was your relationship to
Mr. JONES: I had met Art when he was playing in Buffalo. That was--when I
was playing at the Anchor Bar, across town in Buffalo there was a place called
McVan's, another nightclub, and Art used to play there periodically during the
year and a half I spent in Buffalo. And whenever he would come into town to
play, after our last set at the Anchor Bar, we'd go over and catch his last
set. And I got to hear a lot of Art Tatum in Buffalo.
After the--after Art finished playing at McVan's, he would often go to a
restaurant down in midtown or somebody's home; somebody would invite them to
come to his home to play. And he would play until the early hours of the
morning--or I should say maybe the late hours, maybe 11 or 12:00 the next day.
That's how he played; he liked to play like that. This happened almost every
time I heard him play there. And he would invariably have a case of Pabst
Blue Ribbon beer; maybe I shouldn't mention that. But, anyway, he'd have a
case of--too late. He would always have a bottle of beer in his hand or--not
when he was playing, of course, but after he finished playing. But he liked
to drink beer at that time.
GROSS: So what was your relationship with him? Were...
Mr. JONES: Well, I had met him and, of course, I was fascinated. I
was--What's the word?--enthralled. I couldn't believe it. You know, I'd look
at him and I'd say, `It's impossible to do what he's doing.' But, listen, I'm
sitting there and I'm looking at him and I'm watching him do it, and I still
don't believe it. But it was just--it was almost magical. It was really
magic the things that he do on the piano and--up until his demise. He was
fantastic. He was undoubtedly the true genius that you hear the name flouted
around so much. Art Tatum was a true genius.
GROSS: Pianist Hank Jones will be back in the second half of the show. His
latest CDs are "For My Father" and "S'Wonderful." He's featured on Joe
Lovano's CD "Joyous Encounter." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Hank Jones talks about accompanying Ella Fitzgerald and
working as the house pianist for "The Ed Sullivan Show." Also, Maureen
Corrigan reviews two new novels set in Cuba.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Hank Jones, who, as jazz
critic Whitney Balliett wrote, is widely regarded as the dean of jazz
pianists. Jones is the last surviving brother of one of the most illustrious
families in jazz. His brothers were drummer Elvin Jones and trumpeter and
band leader Thad Jones. Hank Jones turns 87 next month. He's featured on
several new CDs that were released this year, including Joe Lovano's "Joyous
Encounter" and his own "For My Father."
From 1948 to '63, Jones accompanied Ella Fitzgerald. Here they are on "I've
Got the World on a String" recorded in 1950.
(Soundbite of "I've Got the World on a String")
Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) I've got the world on a string, sitting on a
rainbow. Got the string around my finger. What a world, what a life. I'm in
love. I've got a song that I sing. I can make the rain go anytime I move my
finger. Lucky me. Can't you see I'm in love? Life is a beautiful thing.
GROSS: For five years you accompanied Ella Fitzgerald in the late '40s and
the early '50s. How did you like playing with Ella Fitzgerald? How did you
like working with a singer? I mean, the accompanist with a singer, no matter
how extraordinary they are as a pianist, usually on stage, you know, kind of
takes a back seat. It's the singer who's up front at the microphone. It's
the singer who the audience is mostly looking at.
Mr. JONES: Well, that's true, and, of course, the job of the accompanist is
to support the singer, both harmonically and rhythmically if necessary, you
see. I say that because some pianists, when they attempt to accompany, they
mistake accompanying with soloing. They get the two confused, you see. They
want to solo when they should be accompanying--in other words, playing
background, supporting the vocalist or the instrumentalists because the basic
technique of accompanying is almost the same, whether you're accompanying a
singer or an instrumentalist--almost the same. You're supporting. And you're
not--you don't interfere. You don't lead, except, you know, on very rare
occasions you might suggest another type of question--suggest another type of
harmony. But you never get that far ahead of the singer. You never get ahead
of the singer.
You should always be in the background. And some pianists confuse the two.
They think that they should solo all the time. So every open spot they want
to solo. Well, in the open spot, you play a supporting rhythmic or harmonic
progression that supports the singer's next entrance. It's a rather
complicated thing, but to do it successfully, needless to say, you must listen
very carefully to the vocalist or the singer or the artist, you know. So...
GROSS: Now I know you met Thelonious Monk. I don't know how close you ever
got to him. But when you first heard his playing, did it sound wrong to you,
you know?--'cause he was playing dissonances that most people would have
thought of as mistakes. And he was playing these kind of like erratic rhythms
that didn't fit the predictable rhythm patterns that people were playing. So
did you get it right away, or did it sound wrong to you?
Mr. JONES: Well, it never sounded wrong to me. It sounded different. And
I--even the dissonances that he played, they were intentional, you know. So
I--to me, it sounded like, OK, he wanted to prove something musically, and
this was the only way to do it 'cause if you played conventional harmony at
that point, it wouldn't have had the impact. So he used the dissonance to
emphasize what he was doing.
GROSS: What impact did it have on you to hear him?
Mr. JONES: Well, it left a very--I was in awe of what he was doing because I
had never heard anybody who thought musically in that way, just intentional
dissonances. Oh, some composers have used it but not to the extent that Monk
used it. Monk used it on every composition that he played. If he played
"Body and Soul" or any ballad, you could tell immediately that it was Monk
because his stamp was on it, the way he voiced his chords, the--his choice of
chords, his choice of harmonic patterns and so forth. This was distinctive.
No, he was a silas(ph). He was individual with a style that was just almost
impossible to imitate.
GROSS: Now from 1959 to '76, you worked as a staff pianist for CBS television
and radio. The shows that you played for included "The Ed Sullivan Show."
Mr. JONES: "Garry Moore Show," Jackie Gleason and two radio shows and some
television shows that didn't make it and, also, the television show called
"American Musical Theater." Well, I conducted that show a couple of times.
But it--they played mostly classical music on that show. But the other shows,
"The Ed Sullivan Show," the Jackie Gleason show and "The Garry Moore Show,"
were variety shows 'cause they had comedians, they had dancers, they had
singers. They had dog acts, sometimes elephant acts and so forth, you know.
GROSS: Oh, yeah, people juggling plates and all of that stuff.
Mr. JONES: Like all--exactly.
GROSS: So you had to play for the elephant acts and the people juggling
plates and walking the tight rope and for Ella Fitzgerald probably and...
Mr. JONES: Yes.
GROSS: Was that fun?
Mr. JONES: It was, but it was interesting, you know, because from week to
week you never knew quite what you were going to have to do that particular
week. You found out during the rehearsals, but sometimes things happened
during the show that didn't happen at the rehearsal. Sometimes you had to
improvise some things that were--something that might go wrong during the live
show. See, what happened during a tape show, you could always stop the tape,
but if it happened during a live show, you have to improvise as you go along.
GROSS: You did a lot of session work, too. Did you record on any records
that became big hits, but nobody really knows that you were on the pianist on
Mr. JONES: I don't believe so, not offhand. I've done some things with Ella
Fitzgerald that--almost everything she did was a hit record.
Mr. JONES: And, of course, I recorded quite a bit with her. Also, I was
lucky enough to work with Marilyn Monroe. Now ordinarily she's not considered
to be a singer, but she did sing very well.
GROSS: I actually like her singing.
Mr. JONES: She was...
Mr. JONES: ...primarily an actress. I had the occasion of playing for her
when she sang "Happy Birthday" and "Thanks for the Memories" for President
Kennedy at ...(unintelligible).
GROSS: That was you at the piano?
Mr. JONES: That's right. We--I tell you, she did 16 bars: eight bars of
"Happy Birthday to You" and eight bars of "Thanks for the Memories." So in 16
bars, we rehearsed eight hours. So I think that's something like a half-hour
for a bar of music, you know. 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?
Mr. JONES: And she got through it very well, I think, but it was a very
GROSS: OK. Well, we have this on CD, so let's hear it (laughs). Marilyn
Monroe with my guest, Hank Jones, at the piano singing to the president.
(Soundbite of "Happy Birthday" performance)
Ms. MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday, Mr. President. Happy birthday to you.
(Soundbite of applause)
GROSS: Marilyn Monroe serenading the president with my guest, Hank Jones, at
Hank Jones, you know, we were talking about how you played at CBS for many
years and did a lot of studio work. What was your reaction to John Coltrane's
music when your brother, Elvin Jones, was the drummer with Coltrane? And, you
know, Coltrane had been doing a lot of pretty far-out experimentation, playing
Mr. JONES: Yeah.
GROSS: Did you relate to that?
Mr. JONES: Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't relate to it very well. It
was kind of--it was an approach that I had heard, but I had sort of rejected
because I had been listening--you have to understand I had been listening to
people like Lester Young, Chu Berry, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, and this
was quite afar from what John Coltrane was doing. And I understood what he
was doing, but I just didn't agree with it musically at the time. Later I
began to accept it, I think, more. And, of course, Elvin, my brother, was
with the band, so I had another reason for listening to it more carefully, you
know. And it began to make more sense to me as time went on, and I think it
did--but it took a little bit of time for me to get used to it.
GROSS: You didn't record a lot with your brothers, but what was it like when
you did play with them--with Elvin and Thad Jones? Was there any kind of
special connection? I mean, you were older than they were, so--I don't know
if you played together much as kids.
Mr. JONES: Well, we didn't play very much as kids. You remember, I left the
Pontiac scene and the Michigan scene years before they did, maybe 10 years. I
had been in New York for almost 10 years before Thad and Elvin came, although,
you know, when I first got to New York, I mentioned their names to people like
Leonard Feather and some others, and they were included in Leonard
Feather's--one of his books. Their names were in his book long before they
got to New York, you know. So they were not strangers when they arrived
there. And, of course, they had already played with some of these people who
had come through Detroit and played at the Bluebird.
But we didn't play together because we just were not in the same place at the
same time, and our musical pace differed somewhat, but in many ways it was
very similar. But it was just a question of being in the same place at the
same time, and we just--unfortunately, we're not. We did two things together,
three--two record dates. And, of course, I played down at the Village
Vanguard for a time with Thad Jones and all those bands. And I had to cut
that short because it didn't coincide with my CBS schedule. I couldn't stay
up all night and then work all day at CBS, so I had to give it up. But we
didn't play together as often as I would liked to have. I mean, that's
unfortunate because it was impossible back then.
GROSS: Did you feel like there was any kind of special connection when you
did play together?
Mr. JONES: Yes, I did. I thought there was. There was always something
special, and that's why--that's one of the reasons I regret that we didn't do
more of it. I'm truly sorry about that, to be honest, you know.
GROSS: My guest is pianist Hank Jones. Here he is with his late brothers
Thad and Elvin Jones playing "It Had To Be You" from the 1959 album "Keeping
Up With The Joneses."
(Soundbite of "It Had To Be You")
GROSS: Hank Jones with brothers Thad and Elvin. We'll talk more with Hank
Jones after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is the pianist Hank Jones. He turns 87 next month. His
latest CDs are "For My Father" and it's wonderful. He's featured on Joe
Lovano's CD "Joyous Encounter."
The jazz critic Whitney Balliett, who's quite a fan, as you know, of your
playing, once wrote, `Jones' solos think.' And then you once told Whitney
Balliett, `Concentration is the difference between the great players and the
players who are not great.' Do you think when you're soloing?
Mr. JONES: Well, yes, you do, you know, but, gee, your thoughts are running
ahead. Let's see, if you could separate your thoughts from your
actions--they're tied together, of course, but your thoughts are ahead of what
you actually do because by the time you get to the place, your thoughts are
maybe four or five bars ahead of where you actually are physically at the
piano. So by the time you get there, you've already played what you thought,
like, four seconds, five seconds before that, you see. In other words, you're
thinking ahead. So, yes, you're concentrating and you're thinking.
GROSS: You know, a lot of people might think, `Oh, it's just intuitive.'
Mr. JONES: I think that plays a part of it, but it's certainly not the main
thing. You have to know what you're doing. In order to know what you're
doing, you have to think about it there, you know. So, first of all, you have
to know the music that you're playing. You have to know the tune that you're
playing. You have to know what the chord progressions are and then--now, OK,
the improvisations are intuitive. Of course, the intuition is based on prior
knowledge, isn't it? I mean, how can you be intuitive if you don't have some
prior knowledge of what you're doing? So the prior knowledge always comes
into play there. You must have thought of it before that. And...
GROSS: Hank Jones, you're turning 87 at the end of July. How have your hands
and fingers held up after, you know, hitting the piano for so many years?
Mr. JONES: Well, my fingers used to be 2 inches longer than they are now, but
I used to do a lot of rock 'n' roll dates where you played triplets. And the
constant pounding of my fingers on the keys playing triplets shortened my
GROSS: I can't tell if you're kidding or not about your fingers being
Mr. JONES: I'm not sure myself, but I do notice that my gloves, which used to
fit very well, don't fit very well now. And I thought maybe that had
something to do with it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: OK. So they're not really 2 inches shorter.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: But--yeah. All righty. OK.
Mr. JONES: I'm sorry about that.
GROSS: Yeah. So have you had trouble with tendinitis, you know, the kind of
problems that plagues a lot of musicians, particularly pianists?
Mr. JONES: You know, fortunately, I've never had that problem, you know. I
guess it's because maybe I've been active or--you know, pretty much during
that period. I think activity is the one thing that might stave that off.
Inactivity probably promotes that sort of thing, I guess, unless you have an
inherent tendency toward that kind of--maybe it's genetic or something like
that. But I haven't had that problem, thank God, you know.
GROSS: As you approach your 87th birthday, does it surprise you that you, you
know, outlived--and outlived for years--your younger brothers, Elvin and Thad?
Mr. JONES: Well, I don't know. I tell you, it's certainly disheartening.
But I don't know. I don't know whether I should feel surprised or not. I've
always lived my life a certain way. I don't--perhaps my lifestyle had
something to do with my longevity; hopefully it did. But, you know, nobody
lives forever, of course, and maybe it was just their time and it's not my
time yet, you know. I intend to go on for--until I'm 250. I'm working on
that now actively. I hope to play better than I played last time. That's my
objective: to always do better, to reach another level...
GROSS: Does that mean...
Mr. JONES: ...a higher level.
GROSS: ...you're still practicing? I mean, do you still, like, practice at
Mr. JONES: Oh, of course. Oh, of course. Yes. I don't see how anybody can
do without practicing, you know. I...
GROSS: So what do you do when you practice now?
Mr. JONES: I do scales, exercises, and I try to learn new material and review
old material, you see. I try to be conversant with the piano. You have to be
on good speaking terms with the piano, or the piano will rebuff you.
Mr. JONES: I've heard the piano described as a man-eating monster with
black-and-white teeth. And it's true.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us. It's been wonderful to
talk with you.
Mr. JONES: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
GROSS: Pianist Hank Jones. Let's hear a recording he made with his brother,
the drummer Elvin Jones, in 2002, two years before Elvin died. It was their
last record date together. This is "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" from
the CD "Someday My Prince Will Come."
(Soundbite of "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To")
GROSS: Hank Jones will turn 87 on July 31st. His latest CDs are "For My
Father" and it's wonderful. He's also featured on Joe Lovano's CD, "Joyous
Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews two new novels set in Cuba. This is FRESH
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Lisa Wixon's "Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban" and Leonardo
Padura Fuentes' "Adios Hemingway"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The safest and most popular route to Cuba for most America is via the printed
page. Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews two new books about the island.
One dramatizing the economic hardships of everyday life there, and the other
resolutely clings to the Cuba of memory and dreams.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
Perhaps it's just my impression, but it seems like ever since the Elian
Gonzalez case exploded in 2000, so too have the number of books that have been
published or distributed in this country about Cuba. Brazenly in our face and
yet tantalizingly out of reach for most Americans, Cuba offers glimpses of
itself through literature, be it the literature of memory or fantasy, desire
Lisa Wixon's debut novel "Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban" is based, in part, on
her year's stay in Cuba, which also provided material for her "Havana Honey"
series that ran in 2003 on Salon.com. The Cuban odyssey of Wixon's heroine,
Alysia Briggs, is set in motion when she hears a death-bed confession from her
mother that the man she thinks of as her biological father actually is not.
Instead Alysia's mother rasps out the name of a Cuban and commands her
daughter to travel to Havana to find her, quote-unquote, "real father."
Dutifully, Alysia enters Cuba on a year-long student residency visa, but when
her nest egg of $25,000 in cash is stolen, the intrepid Alysia is forced to
`go native' and assume the life of a jinetera, Spanish for jockey.
Hinaterras, we're told, are no mere prostitutes but, rather, educated Cuban
courtesans who entertain foreign sex tourists in exchange for Marc Jacobs
dresses and grocery money. Wixon writes that, `In a country where lawyers
make $18 a month and a meal in a restaurant costs twice as much, becoming a
jinatera is the logical moonlighting option for Cuba's female PhDs and MDs.'
"Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban" is as much a bodice-ripper as your average
afternoon novella or soap opera. Heavy handed in its lectures on sex tourism
as a form of colonization, Wixon's novel conversely is not going to gain any
consciousness-raising awards from the adoption community for its portrayal of
Alysia's unaccepting adoptive father vs. the unconditionally loving biological
father and fuzzy extended family she ultimately discovers in Cuba. Its
contrived quality noted, however, "Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban" flaunts a
certain seedy narrative energy, as well as the appeal of dramatizing some
fresh, if unsavory, facts of making do in contemporary Cuba.
Speaking of seedy, if the noire novel didn't already exist, Cuban writers
surely would have had to invent it to capture their own peculiar version of a
world gone wrong. Foremost among Cuba's masters of hard-boiled detective
fiction, Leonardo Padura Fuentes has just brought out another in his
award-winning series of Inspector Mario Conde mysteries set in Havana. Called
"Adios Hemingway," this mystery, as that title suggests, revisits worn-out
material, namely Hemingway's years in Cuba, and from the very first page
transforms it into something rich and haunting. The other distinction of
Padura Fuentes' writing is his language. John King, who translated this novel
from Spanish, also deserves a nod here.
Like the best hard-boiled writers, Padura Fuentes is a poet philosopher, as
evidenced by this rumination of Conde's on his absurd existential situation:
`He was a goddamned private detective in a country with neither detectives nor
private property. He felt like a bad metaphor for a strange reality.'
"Adios Hemingway" begins roughly in the present, with a violent storm that
fells mango trees on the old Hemingway estate and unearths the skeletal
remains of what turns out to be an FBI agent with bullet holes in his bones.
The skeleton has been hidden since Hemingway's time, and suspicion swirls that
the aging papa, with his paranoia and propensity for violence, might have been
the murderer. Unofficially Conde, who's now retired from the police, is asked
to help out on the case. After all, he's had a writerly obsession with
Hemingway for decades. As Conde's investigation proceeds, the story also
flips back in time to a first-person narration by Hemingway about his years in
Cuba. We hear about his love of Cuban cockfighting and rum as well as his
fears that `perhaps being no more than a journalist,' he had to manufacture a
life of conflict in order to have fodder for his novels.
Increasingly immersing himself in Hemingway's past as well as his own, Conde
realizes that `he enjoyed hearing those old stories. They cast him back to a
lost world, which, in the free territory of his memory, greatly resembled
happiness.' I've been trying to commit that magical sentence of Padura
Fuentes' to my memory ever since I'd first read it.
Where the scandalously entertaining "Half-Cuban and Dirty Blonde" leaves
little to the imagination, "Adios Hemingway" only deepens Cuba's aura of
mystery, past and present.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban" by Lisa Wixon and "Adios Hemingway" by
Leonardo Padura Fuentes.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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