Hank Jones, whose extraordinary combination of versatility, craftsmanship and creativity during his nearly eight-decade career earned him the reputation as a jazz pianist’s pianist, has died. He was 91.
Jones died Sunday at Calvary Hospital in New York after a brief illness, publicist Jordy Freed said.
Praised for the feather-soft precision of his touch, Jones was equally adept at unleashing the piano’s full, orchestral gamut of sounds. Rhythmic lift and propulsive swing were inherent to his playing, whether performing as an accompanist or in a solo setting. And his deep understanding of harmony was the foundation for a skilled mastery of the diverse material in the Great American Songbook.
“His style is as profound and defined as any of the major masters,” jazz pianist Bill Charlap told the Detroit Free Press in 2006. “It’s equal to Teddy Wilson, equal to Bill Evans, equal to Thelonious Monk, equal to Tommy Flanagan. It’s as much a unique musical utterance and just as balanced in terms of intellectualism and feeling. With Hank Jones you hear the past, present and the future of jazz piano.”
Jones’ own evaluation of his playing was far more modest. Invited to become a member of alto saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker’s group in the ’40s and trumpeter Miles Davis’ band in the ’50s, he declined the offers.
“Both times I said, ‘I’m not good enough to do that,’ ” Jones recalled in 2006. “Isn’t that something? I probably missed the chance of a lifetime.”
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