Etta Jones’s sound was pure passion for jazz

The Artistry of… Etta Jones

Her bio tells a story of a very young Etta standing in front of a mirror and mimicking the voices of her favourite vocalists, Thelma Carpenter and Billie Holiday. She was lucky enough as a child to see Billie Holiday. The impact of seeing someone you greatly admire, and strive to be like, in person is an impression that stays and impacts deeply.

In her teens, Jones performed at The Apollo in one of the famous theatre’s amateur nights. That experience was not the greatest as her nerves overcame her, but luck factored in as the evening’s piano player and bandleader, Buddy Johnson, saw something in her performance and hired her on in his band to fill in for his sister, who was taking time off to have a baby. Jones sang with the band for a year and that led to work with some big names in jazz including Kenny Burrell, Charles Brown and Cedar Walton.

In the late ’60s, Jones paired with Houston Person. They worked as a duo for many years performing standards and popular tunes and recording 18 albums for the Muse label. The pairing was magical and is reflected in these words of Jones from a New York Times interview: “[Person] knows exactly what I’m going to do … He knows if I’m in trouble; he’ll give me a note. He leaves me room.”

Etta Jones: her sound is passion for jazz. A respect that sounds like the purity of the tone in her beautiful expression of the music.



The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.


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