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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

Me and Mr. Jones

The passing in January of baseball immortal "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron got me thinking back on the remembrance I had written for the blog of the Big Band Academy of America of the great jazz pianist Hank Jones following the latter's death. My experience with the Big Band Academy is a saga in itself, one I haven't related yet on this website but will in the near future.

In fact, Hank Jones did anything but hammer the keyboard. However, he was every inch the master in his field that Hank Aaron was in his. I never met Mr. Jones, who died eleven years ago at the age of 91, but in my work as a travel agent, I did have the privilege of speaking with him on the phone exactly once. In 1995, bassist and client Ray Brown asked my dad and me to contact Hank and arrange for him to fly from his home on a small farm in upstate New York to a city in the Midwest where he and Ray would perform. I made the call.

Some people are only as considerate as they need to be. Hank Jones didn't need to do more than simply answer a few questions about his flight plans from a humble travel agent. But by the end of our conversation, he had made me feel like a favorite nephew. At one point, I mentioned that relatives on my mother's side lived on a farm in the same general region of New York State. Hardly an earthshaking announcement, yet Hank seemed genuinely interested and we chatted for a while about the Baseball Hall of Fame and other attractions in the area.

In his final years, Hank spent nearly all his time in a 12-by-12-foot room at Broadway and 108th Street, while his wife remained upstate in an assisted care facility. By all accounts, though, this man who had worked with giants such as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, was content. He practiced hours every day at an electric piano, listening through headphones out of concern that otherwise his playing might disturb the neighbors.

Yeah, that considerate.

To both legendary Hanks, rest well.

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