Rhythm Vet Richard Jones


Richard Jones, trombone

Richard H.L. Jones was born December 9, 1923 in Summerfield into a family of sharecroppers. Early on, he was more interested in sports, but after being kicked off Dudley High School’s basketball team as a senior “for not following instructions,” he told Michael Futch, he joined the school band as clarinet player.

“I wasn’t really interested in music,” he explained. “I liked to sing, and sports, I played ball, but I had been put off the team and Parsons needed clarinets in the band at Dudley. So I went in the Navy to play clarinet, but after I’d been in a while they needed another trombone player, and at that time I loved to march, and since trombones marched on the front, I said, ‘Well, I can play trombone,’ so anyway I took the trombone and sat down and learned to play it.”

He liked Trummy Young, with the Lunceford band: “my favorite trombone player–that’s why guys called me Trummy.”

Jones was at the end of his freshman year at A&T when he enlisted in B-1. He said he failed the color-blind test and never learned to swim; but like the other B-1 vets, he loved being stationed in Chapel Hill, although, he said, “In Chapel Hill, we never officially played anywhere where we could also dance.” And, like several others, he married soon after learning in April 1944 of their impending transfer to Pearl Harbor.

He played with the number one dance bands cut out from B-1 in Chapel Hill, the Cloudbusters, and in Hawai’i, the Manana Meteors, who were among the most popular dance bands on the islands. The Meteors performed frequently in competitions against military bands comprised exclusively of formerly professional jazzmen, and press accounts of the time confirm his contention that they’d won more crowd applause than Ray Anthony’s Hell Cats, who were named winners “to keep them from being embarrassed.”

In the Navy, he said, “I used to think how great it would be if I could just travel around and play all the time. My desire was to become a member of a big band where I could travel all over the country, but when I was going to be discharged, we stopped in Raleigh, and Erskine Hawkins had a big band at the time, he came to Raleigh with his big band, and Erskine Hawkins and his band stayed in the same little hotel where I stayed, and that was a miserable experience, being in that hotel that night, and then, oh yea, I saw the guys when they came in and they looked so bad, and I said to myself, if I have to stay in places like this and I have to look like that, have to do all that driving and stuff, I think when they left Raleigh they were going to somewhere in Tennessee, about 400 miles, so that one experience there changed my mind, right there. I said maybe I could be a studio musician.”

An astute professional musician all his life, Jones was quick to notice the different music which the Chicago-trained fellows brought back to Greensboro after the war. “Guy and Donaldson, Carlson, they were more interested in bebop. It was something new to us–we liked things the big bands were doing, like Woody Herman and Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, people like that.”

After the war, he played with the Rhythm Vets while finishing school at A&T, where he majored in horticulture, still thinking he’d likely return to family farming. He began earning money playing music, and his first job brought him back to Greenville, where he was band director at Eppes High School (1949-50), and on Saturdays he would walk to John Warner’s Plaza Theater for an afternoon of movies. After a year teaching high school, though, he began to think that teaching at the college level would be a better career path, so he went to Northwestern University for his Master’s, studying with “an old man who had played with Sousa and the Chicago city orchestra, just a fantastic player.”

Jones smoothly mixed teaching and performing during his career. “It’s a good feeling,” he said, “knowing you can sit down and play with any musician anywhere.”

But he relished the teaching even more: “Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve come in contact with some very fine players, and I have fun working with those students and seeing them progress and being able to do good things on the instrument, and I love those who will come in and challenge me–it’s just a joy seeing those who spend time with their instruments, do things they’re supposed to do.”

 After earning his Master’s at Northwestern, he taught at West Virginia State University for a year, at Alabama State University for 3 years, at A&T for 2 years, at Jarvis Christian College in Texas for a year, and at North Carolina Central University for decade before moving to Boston to earn his PhD at Boston University. From 1971 until his retirement, he was band director and then Professor of Applied Music & Music Education at Fayetteville State University, all the while playing with the Fayetteville Symphony.

He joined a musicians union in 1970 while living briefly in Maryland and began getting work with traveling pop stars in need of a backup band, performing over the years for Dionne Warwick, the Temptations, the Dells, Roberta Flack, Nancy Wilson when they were in the Carolinas or Virginia.

But by far the hardest thing he ever did: “For 3 years, I played the Barnum and Baily Circus, and that was tough, but I enjoyed it.”

Getting back together with his fellow Rhythm Vets to perform a 1987 reunion jam in Greenville prompted a variety of memories. He smiled and chuckled as he recounted, a bit incredulously, this one: “When we went on jobs, Tom Gavin and Charles Woods would drive, and Gavin’s told me some things since that were kind of frightening; after jobs, on the way back home, most of the fellows would be asleep and he and Woods would be driving and he was telling me something recently about some racing they were doing, kind of frightening when he told me about it.”

He was glad for the opportunity to perform again with the Vets and rather nonchalant as he talked about how their unrehearsed jam came off: “The first thing we played in Greenville was ‘Red Top.’ Well, we played ‘Red Top’ way back then, I don’t like to mention the number of years, and ‘Red Top’ is still ‘Red Top,’ so we played the theme down a couple of times and I think almost everybody in the group took a couple of solos. And then when we finished the solos, we played the melody down again, and that’s just what musicians do.”       


Futch, Michae. “Jones’ Jazz.” Fayetteville Observer Times 22 Mar 1996: E 1, 8-9.

Harris, Otto. “Musically Speaking.” Mananan. 17 Mar. 1945: 5.

Jones, Richard Henry Lee. Notice of Separation from US Naval Service; medals American Area: Victory WWII; Asiatic Pacific: Good Conduct

—. Personal interview. Fayetteville, NC. 13 June 1986.

—. Personal interview. Fayetteville, NC. 6 July 1987.

—. Personal interview. Fayetteville, NC. 6 July 1987.

—. Personal interview. Greenville, NC. 25 Oct. 2002. 

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–March 3, 2024