Swing into summertime!

The Ron Jones Quartet at the Dayton Art Institute

By Benjamin Smith
Photo: Saxophonist Ron Jones brings his quartet to Dayton Art Institute on Thursday, June 13

Live jazz performances are electric – even illuminating. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that energy giant Vectren has sponsored the Dayton Art Institute’s annual Jazz & Beyond concert series since 2003. This June, the Ron Jones Quartet – presented in partnership with Cityfolk – will galvanize the series with its Louisville-flavored style. Saxophonist Ron Jones recently spoke with the Dayton City Paper about his particular sound and vision.

“Jazz” can mean different things to different people. Exactly what kind of music should Daytonians expect from the Ron Jones Quartet?

We’re a very straight-ahead, traditional, swing group. We always strive for a 1950’s “Blue Note Records” sound, although with some modern jazz influences. –Ron Jones

Your individual sound is often compared to that of Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley: bluesy, but optimistic. Do you feel this comparison is close to the mark?

I do feel it is close to the mark, because sounding like Cannonball was what I strove for in my younger years, and I still strive to sound like him. I’m a very bluesy, soulful saxophone player. I have studied Cannonball’s music and style extensively. Growing up, he and Charlie Parker were my heroes. -RJ

You gained critical acclaim in 1997 with your debut album, A Vision of Beauty. What was recording that album like?

It was a phenomenal experience. James Williams, the pianist on that album, had played with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Dizzy Gillespie … a plethora of musicians. He played with everybody. James and I became friends years ago at a jazz camp, when I was a student and he was one of the instructors. Later, I asked him to perform on A Vision of Beauty, and he said he would love to. James is the guy who made the album a success. We all played well, but his experience was great. It was stressful at times for me and James was a very steadying influence. -RJ

Like many jazz albums, A Vision of Beauty consists of both covers and originals. In contrast, many rock or pop albums consist of either all covers or all originals. Why the difference?

Part of this has to do with the fact that there are so many classic standards in jazz. But it’s also because jazz is a hard sell. It’s tough to sell jazz records. So if you want people to buy your record, they need to see that you have included at least a few songs they recognize. When I had my CD release party for A Vision of Beauty in Louisville, I sold about 100 records. Now, part of that was because the album was “home cooking.” However, it helped that people knew some songs, like [Billy Strayhorn ‘s] “Lush Life,” on the album. -RJ

Any plans for a new album?

Yes. The thing is, I am busier now that when I recorded A Vision of Beauty. Right now I teach saxophone to over 50 students. It’s hard to record an album with the time that you don’t have! It’s also an expensive proposition … but I will definitely record one, and I will include a few original songs on it. -RJ

What kind of set list do you have in mind for the show at the Dayton Art Institute?

I don’t want to say too much about it just yet (laughs), but I can say that we will definitely play some songs from A Vision of Beauty. -RJ

Speaking of concerts: what is the one jazz standard you play that gets the biggest audience reaction?

“Summertime,” by George Gershwin. Everybody knows it. Everybody loves it. Sometimes we play it straight-ahead, sometimes in a bossa nova style, sometimes even in the style of a slow New Orleans dirge. -RJ

Finally, you mentioned that you teach the saxophone. What is one of the first things you teach students about understanding or appreciating jazz?

It’s funny you should ask that. I actually don’t teach a lot of jazz; I mostly teach classical saxophone. However, I have been teaching more jazz recently. The first thing I tell anyone interested in jazz is that it’s a lot of work! You can know all the chords and scales in the world, but you’ll sound like crap unless you use them. You have to work at it. And when you want to improvise, you have to listen and learn the language of jazz. You have to hear the little phrases from the language of bebop, the language of swing. It’s like when a child learns how to talk: they listen to their parents talk and they pick up things. In jazz, you have to listen. -RJ

The Ron Jones Quartet performs at the Dayton Art Institute on Thursday, June 13, from 5:30-8 p.m. in the Shaw Gothic Cloister. Admission is free for museum members, $8 for non-members. Cash bar available for beverages and hors d’oeuvres. For more information, call 937.223.5277 or visit daytonartinstitute.org.


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