Thad Jones – A Forgotten Giant?

January 6, 2014

by Mike Carubia

The passage of time gives us the proper historical perspective of the works of great poets, painters, musicians, composers, and artists in fields too numerous to mention. Thad Jones (1918 – 1986) is one whose rank in the world of jazz is rarely lauded and perhaps overlooked too often. Musicians and composers who were fortunate enough to have played with him, worked with him, or who simply showed up to hear Thad play trumpet, cornet, or lead his trail-blazing big band know how important a figure Jones was. Let us not forget the hundreds and thousands of musicians, jazz fans, celebrities, and writers who made their way to the Village Vanguard on a Monday night just to hear an astounding group of  New York’s finest musicians perform a style of big band jazz never heard before. They watched Thad lead this ensemble in directions even the band didn’t know they were capable of going.

I was one of the fortunate ones who were there on many of those Monday nights watching and listening in complete awe of what I was witnessing. I always left more wide-awake than when I arrived, even though it was 1:15 a.m. on Tuesday, work looming a few hours later. On that next day, I couldn’t wait until school was over to get my manuscript paper and pencil out to try and capture some of the sounds I heard the previous night. Of course I was always bugging the record stores for when the next Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band album (No CDs or downloads in 1967) would be available. My searches today are on the Web – I’m still looking for the album with Catarina Valente recorded in Europe in 1976 when Thad was leading the Basie band with his arrangements containing classic Thad lines and voicings – does anyone out there have it?

(Byron Stripling – you were on that album – help! )

Is it any wonder that many of this country’s finest writers have taken the time to capture what it was that Thad exuded in all of his charts? Bill Finnegan, Manny Albam, Mike Abene, Bob Brookmeyer,  Jim Mc Neely , John Clayton, Dave LaLama, John Fedchock, John La Barbera, Mike Holober, Pete McGuinness, Anita Brown, and thousands of writers around the world have incorporated a piece of Thad into their own writing styles. (My apologies if I’ve failed to mention the many other prominent names out there.) And what about Rayburn Wright at the Eastman School of Music, who produced the first definitive analysis of Thad’s writing with Inside The Score (Kendor Music Co.), along with analysis of charts by Bob Brookmeyer  and Sammy Nestico.

What is it that separates Jones from his predecessors and contemporaries from a writing standpoint? I met Bill Finnegan when I was teaching at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, having replaced Neil Slater, who went to North Texas State in 1980. Bill would come to most all of the rehearsals we had just to hang out one year, in particular, because his son Jamie was in the band. I was surprised one night when sitting next to Bill at my rehearsal was Jim Hall. After the rehearsal we were talking about a chart I had written and he said to me, “I liked that ensemble section you wrote, it sounded like one of those non-melody ensembles that Thad likes to write.”  I knew exactly what he meant but never gave it a second thought until I decided to write this article. This provides me with the perfect place to start: the melody.

Thad’s Melodies

Who would doubt that Thad Jones would write so much non-melody in a chart when you listen to the beautifully melodies he was capable of writing – “A Child Is Born,” “It Only Happens Every Time,” “Mean What You Say,” “Walkin’About,” “Three and One,” and “Two As One,” to name only a few. I’m not really sure if I am qualified to answer such a question, but I will attempt to offer a few thoughts on how Thad used his “quirky” melodic lines as primary melodies, countermelodies, backgrounds for solos and particularly in his ensemble passages.

Trumpets: Unison Cup & Harmons “The Second Race” Comp. by Thad Jones (Concert Pitch)


F Blues – First 8 measures


 Certainly this is not the kind of melody found in the Count Basie library, such as “Moten Swing,” “One O’Clock Jump,” “Splanky,” et cetera… and you wouldn’t find too many people whistling this melody after the performance. What Thad did to provide balance to these quirky melodies was to bring you home with this “down home,” straightforward shout chorus, which provided the balance to the less melodic passages.

When it came to harmony and particularly his voicings for the ensemble, sax solis and brass solis were all knocked out with his new approach. All you used to hear from players and writers was, “Man, what tight voicings,” which wasn’t always true. Most of his sax soli voicings were quite spread over 10s and wider at times in open fashion. I found that out when I tore apart his sax soli from “Don’t Get Sassy” and saw that his voicing were rich and most of the time contained five separate voices, but were wide open particularly as the lead Alto or Soprano went into the higher register. I didn’t let on to my musician friends that knew they were more open than not and accepted the local terminology that they were “tight” voicings because it fit. I hadn’t seen enough of Thad’s scores to argue the point with much conviction. His brass voicings were in fact “tight,” particularly in the range a 4th or 5th above or below middle “C” where Thad provides the “grinds” that Manny Albam described to me. Those were Minor 2nd “rubs” that naturally occur between Major 7ths and roots, Minor 9ths and 3rds, # 9s and 3rds, Manny Albam, a great arranger and teacher whom I met at the Eastman School in the summer of 1970, hipped me to some of Thad’s voicing and harmonic tendencies  when I began private studies with him soon after that summer.

“Don’t Get Sassy” Comp by Thad Jones, 1967 (Pick ups to second 8 measures of the Sax Soli 

Basic Chords:


All Thad Jones excerpts used by permission D’ Accord Music & Publishers Licensing Corp.

Manny Albam was in the booth for many of the Solid State recordings in the late ‘60s and was privy to Thad’s scores during those sessions and after. He gave me copies of two scores for the Joe Williams songs, “Keep Your Hand In Your Heart” and “Evil Man Blues” which was written by Bob Brookmeyer. “Evil ManBlues” sounded so much like Thad’s writing that, until I saw Brookmeyer’s name on the  score, I thought that it was Thad’s hand that produced the chart.

Mike-Carubia-PhotoMike Carubia played as a regular sub with the Mel Lewis Orchestra and the Vanguard Orchestra for 22 years, and spent five years with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band. He maintained a teaching schedule on Long Island N.Y. for 27 years in high school and adjunct positions in several LI colleges and universities. Carubia was also director of Jazz Studies at the University of Bridgeport, Conn., from 1990 -1992. He started a publishing company, Smart Chart Music, primarily to provide re-orchestrated versions of Thad’s music for high school andcollege jazz programs in 2005. Smart Chart Music has joined the C.L. Barnhouse family and continues spreading the word about Thad and other fine jazz composers on his staff through his re-scored Thad Jones compositions.

Mike may be contacted at: or (631) 724-6098.

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