Rodney Jones has had a long and eclectic career as a guitarist, but it’s always been rooted in the soul and funk that he loves. He spent three years touring with Dizzy Gillespie before becoming the guitarist for the house band for the TV show Showtime at the Apollo. He also played guitar for James Brown’s legendary sax player Maceo Parker’s super-tight funk band.
Jones began playing at age six, and joined his first band at age fourteen, having already learned all the guitar parts on James Brown tunes. At 17, he began to study at the City College of New York with pianist John Lewis, soon after that linking up with another pianist, Mingus alum Jaki Byard. Other gigs followed quickly thereafter: three years on the road with Dizzy Gillespie; recording dates with drummer/band-leader Chico Hamilton; and accompanying Lena Horne, with whom he still works today.
Jones also teaches, heading up the jazz guitar program at Juillard and teaching at Manhattan School of Music. “There are two aspects to the word soul,” Jones says in his Manhattan School of Music faculty bio. “You have soul that was created by God, and you have soul created by James Brown. I’ve always been by that connection.”
Jones talks to Guitar Shop TV about how he met Dizzy Gillespie as a Hendrix-crazed teen and discovered a passion for jazz. He also explains why he abandoned his original plans to make a career out of studying turtles for the guitar (hint: girls may have had something to do with it!).