For all that he was loved, Hank Jones was somehow still undervalued in jazz, probably because he was not an innovator like Bud Powell or Monk or Cecil Taylor; nor was he in the forefront of any style, a Teddy Wilson, a Herbie Hancock.
But he was the go-to piano player when taste and intelligence, grace and wisdom were required. On two of my favorite jazz albums, Jones is half the show – the morning song of duets with bassist Charlie Haden, Steal Away, and even better, the stunning You Are There with singer Roberta Gambarini.
Listening to Jones in a 2005 interview with Terry Gross, I was struck by how much he sounded like his music – the kind of man who is very, very smart, but who is a doer, not a thinker. There was nothing affected about his answers; they were sophisticated without showing off.
He talked about Art Tatum and Monk and his brothers. Best of all, he said this about his occupation: “You have to be on good speaking terms with the piano, or the piano will rebuff you.” Yes.