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July 9, 2000

Article sent by Adam Miller.


Sunday, July 9, 2000
Section: Local
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 7B

When Burgher "Buddy" Jones was 18-months old, the top section of the middle finger of his left hand was severed by a lawn mower.

That childhood accident, while traumatic, did little to prevent Mr. Jones from using what was left of that finger to become an accomplished musician. Mr. Jones, who was a friend and sideman of saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker before Parker became a legend, died June 9 at his home in rural Carmel Valley from pancreatic cancer. He was 76.

A few years after Mr. Jones' childhood mishap, his mother decided piano lessons would be a good way for her son to strengthen and flex his fingers.

Proving that his once-injured finger was not problematic, the young Mr. Jones soon revealed he was musically gifted. And after 10 years of studying classical piano, he dedicated his life to entertaining.

The piano lessons gave Mr. Jones his musical foundation. But as a teenager he switched to the acoustic bass, starting a career that lasted for more than six decades.

"My father became one of the best jazz bassists in the country," said Calvin Jones, one of his two sons. "But he wasn't in it for the fortune and fame.

"He 'gigged' so he and his (second) wife could get by and he 'gigged' until the end. They never had much money and lived up there in the mountains beyond all the electricity and phone lines."

In the 1950s Mr. Jones lived in the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania and played bass with the Elliot Lawrence Band, whose arrangers included Al Cohn and Johnny Mandel, known for "The Theme from MASH" and "The Shadow of Your Smile." He also met Marilynn Wetzel, who would later become his second wife.

Mr. Jones' marriage with his first wife and mother of his sons, Elizabeth, ended in divorce.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Jones worked as a staff musician with CBS in New York. He played in the band on the Jack Sterling Radio Show, rising in the early hours to make a two-hour commute to Manhattan. Mr. Jones also played in big bands behind singers such as Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.

Growing up in Hope, Ark., Mr. Jones was a childhood classmate of the late Virginia Kelly, President Clinton's mother, said Adam Miller, a jazz fan who met Mr. Jones in 1977 and remained close with him until his death.

In the late 1930s, Mr. Jones worked for the Pence Funeral Home in Conway, Ark. He was a teenager and the only employee who would handle funerals for black families. Often, Mr.Jones was the only white person at the funeral, Miller said. But through that interaction, he was exposed to a culture he soon would immerse himself in.

In 1940, Mr. Jones attended the University of Kansas City. It was there that he first heard Charlie Parker play the sax, and it was there that he became friends with the future jazz great.

But college wasn't Mr. Jones' thing. So he dropped out and joined the Navy School of Music.

During World War II, Mr. Jones was stationed in Hawaii. After the war, he was surprised to find that the hottest performer in jazz was "Bird" -- his old friend, Charlie Parker.

Parker died in 1955 at age 34. The loss of his close friend had a profound effect on Mr. Jones.

"Of all the things I ever talked about with Buddy that was the hardest for him to discuss," Miller said. "It was like having a guru die for jazz musicians -- he was their Beethoven. His only regret was that he wasn't playing with 'Bird' in those final years."

When the Charlie Parker biographical movie "Bird" was being made in the late 1980s, Mr.Jones served as a consultant for Clint Eastwood, who directed the movie.

Mr. Jones and Marilynn Wetzel, had moved in the early '70s to a remote area of Carmel Valley. "He was a professional musician, but he always had a farm because he hated living in the city and he loved to keep horses," Marilynn Jones said. The couple got married in 1989.

Mr. Jones performed at jazz clubs and festivals around Carmel with the Buddy Jones Trio, which included guitarist Bruce Foreman and fluegelhorn player Jackie Coon.


Burgher "Buddy" Jones

Born: Feb. 17, 1924 in Hope, Ark.

Died: June 9, in Carmel Valley.

Survived by: Wife Marilynn Jones of Carmel Valley; sons Calvin Jones of Bethlehem, Pa.,and Lyle Jones of East Stroudsburg, Pa.; and four grandchildren.

Two concerts are planned in Mr. Jones' honor at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, with all proceeds benefiting hisfamily. The first concert will be at 2 p.m. today featuring jazz trombonist Bill Watrous, songwriter and pianist Dave Frishberg and Mandel. Saxophonist George Young, guitarist Bruce Forman, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Vince Lateano will also perform. The second concert is set for 2 p.m. July 23, and will feature Bob Dorough, Frishberg, vocalist Madeline Eastman and Jones' longtime sideman, fluegelhorn player Jackie Coon. For concert tickets, call (831) 649-3761.


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