Jazz Family

May 3, 2012

I learned something about how jazz history is influenced by blood lines when, in the late 1990s, I was in San Antonio, Texas. One evening, looking for somewhere to eat, I found myself following the tourist trail along the city’s Riverwalk. Hearing the music of a promising-sounding band, I went into a restaurant where a quintet was playing post-bop jazz as a warm-up to the evening’s (non-jazz) headliner. All the instrumentalists in this band were good, but the alto saxophonist was exceptional. After listening to this remarkable player for an hour, I had to tell him how much I had enjoyed the evening. I asked his name; he was David Caceres. I asked if he was related to Ernie Caceres; he said that Ernie was his great-uncle. I knew then that he must be the grandson of Emilio Caceres. From his reaction, it was clear that David was pleased at this recognition of the family name; although this was not uncommon in San Antonio. But I think that he was happily surprised that someone with my accent, which clearly came from a few thousand miles away across an ocean, had spotted the family connection.


Jazz in the blood …

Jazz is often said to be in the blood. Although usually not to be taken literally, there are numerous instances where blood links tie musicians together. When families adorn the pages of jazz history, it is possible that the most numerous are pairs of brothers. There are also larger families, the Jones, Heath, Brunies, Goodman and Teagarden brothers come readily to mind. Bridging a generation, there are several father-son pairs, and in some cases where the pair is mother and son. Then there are sisters, and occasions where the generation bridge goes from mother or father to daughter.

Ernie Caceres …

In the case of the Caceres family from Texas, the bridge is a little out of the ordinary. First in line, in jazz terms, came Ernie Caceres. He was born Ernesto Caceres in Rockport, Texas, on 22 November 1911. Although he started out as a professional guitarist before turning to reed instruments, he became highly skilled on several instruments. His first professional engagements were in Texas, often in company with his brothers, Emilio, violin, and Pinero, trumpet and piano. It was with Emilio’s band that he first toured, playing in various parts of the country, including Detroit and New York City.Ernie-CacerasFrom the late 1930s, he played in bands led by Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Bob Zurke, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon and Billy Butterfield, making in all several hundred appearances on record. Although he played clarinet, alto and tenor saxophones with these bands, it was on baritone saxophone that he became best known. Although rooted in big band swing and Dixieland, he was comfortable in almost any company, something he demonstrated on a 1949 recording date with the Metronome All Stars, on which he backed Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, and Charlie Parker.

Emilio Caceres …

Older than Ernie, Emilio Caceres was also born in Texas, in his case in Corpus Christi on 24 September 1897, he played violin and led a swing band that played throughout the Southwest. It was his trio, however, that gained most popularity and considerable critical approval. In the trio with Emilio were his bother Ernie and their cousin, guitarist Johnny Gomez. Thanks to an appearance on Benny Goodman’s Camel Caravan radio show, the trio was very successful but although there was a lot of work for him in New York City, Emilio chose to return to Texas.Emilio-CaceresFrom a base in San Antonio, he toured with a big band, appeared regularly on radio and made popular records. Although he was a gifted jazz improviser, Emilio opted for a repertoire that mixed contemporary swing style with norteño music, a form highly popular in Mexico and the border states. Sadly, Emilio made only a handful of records but from these it is vividly apparent that he was a hugely gifted musician whose playing can still engender excitement and admiration today.

In the 1960s Ernie Caceres returned to Texas, also settling in San Antonio where he and Emilio recorded in 1969. Ernie was friendly with Jim Cullum Sr and he contributed arrangements for Jim Cullum Jr’s San Antonio-based band. He died there on 10 January 1971; Emilio also died in San Antonio, on 10 February 1980.



Blood ties …

Musical blood linked the Caceres brothers to a cousin, Henry Cuesta (1931-2003), who was for many years featured clarinetist with Lawrence Welk. The blood link continued on down to two grandsons of Emilio.

Of these Anthony Caceres played electric bass from age 17, then switched to acoustic bass. This was at the University of North Texas where in 2003 he earned a degree in Jazz Studies. He also studied with Jeff Bradetich, Lynn Seaton, Mark Egan and Michael Manring.

Anthony-CaceresMore recently, maintaining a family connection, he has toured the country and visited Japan with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Among the many leading names of jazz and pop with whom Anthony has worked are the Four Aces, Ed Soph, Marvin Stamm, Bill Mays, Greg Abate and Carl Fontana.


The other grandson is David Caceres, who plays alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet and flute. While at Berklee College of Music he also began singing, gradually deciding that this was an area of his musicality he wanted to pursue. From 1989, David worked in New York, quickly building his reputation before joining pianist Paul English’s quartet in Houston. More recently, David has fronted his own quartet, has played with fusion group Stratus, and the funk band TKOh! and has appeared on numerous recording dates.

David-CaceresSince 1995, David’s own name recordings have included Innermost, Trio and Reflections. His most recent release is David Caceres on which he effectively blends his straight-ahead post bop alto saxophone with his relaxed and romantically-inclined singing.



Through the decades and the generations, a deep love for jazz has flowed in the veins of the Caceres family, demonstrating that in the case of these internationally acclaimed jazz musicians, family matters.

… been here and gone!

The Jones Boys

March 15, 2017

Are jazz musicians born or are they made? This topic was touched upon in a post here when writing about the Caceres family from the 1930s through to the early 2000s. There, the leaning is toward the belief that environment does the trick rather than blood. Until, that is, the names of the true giants are mentioned. Did Louis Armstrong’s genius spring from his blood or his childhood environment? It appears not to have been either (the Waif’s Home notwithstanding). Or how about Charlie Parker? Or Billie Holiday? Neither the blood nor the early childhood environment of those three artists was particularly conducive to the creation of a musical life. On contrast, the effect of blood and environment inevitably come to mind when considering the lives and careers of the Jones brothers: Hank, Thad and Elvin.

Their father, Henry Jones, worked in the construction industry (he was a lumber inspector) and was also a Baptist deacon. Their mother, Olivia, sang but not professionally and Hank (Henry Jr.) and two older sisters, were encouraged to study piano. In his case, he progressed rapidly and as he entered his teens he began performing semi-professionally close to the family home in Pontiac, Michigan (he was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on 31 July 1918). He also led his own band, in one of which a younger brother, Thad, played trumpet. Hank played piano in various territory bands and was heard by Lucky Thompson who urged him go to New York where he worked with Hot Lips Page. This was in 1944 and while in the city he not only played with musicians such as John Kirby, Coleman Hawkins, and Andy Kirk, he also began drawing into his style aspects of bop through men like Howard McGhee and the future stars of bop who worked in Billy Eckstine’s band. He also worked with Benny Goodman and Milt Jackson and toured extensively with Jazz At The Philharmonic. He then spent several years as a staff musician at CBS Records. This job, which he held into the mid-1970s, meant that he was often working in non-jazz areas but subsequently he returned to jazz.aaahankjonestrioaaahankjonesarigatou He played most often as a soloist, sometimes accompanied singers, and he also played in piano duos with artists including Tommy Flanagan and George Shearing. Hank’s performances, live and on record, were always elegant, reserved almost, his playing always hinting that beneath the urbane surface lay a massive, smoldering talent.

Relevant to the blood -vs- environment theme, Thad Jones (born Thaddeus Joseph on 28 March 1923 in Pontiac) was a self-taught trumpet player. He played a little with brother Hank but his technique and knowledge were advanced during military service. Early in the 1950s he worked in Billy Mitchell’s band in which the youngest of the Jones boys, Elvin, played drums. After a short spell with Charles Mingus, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s he became widely recognized through spending several years with Count Basie. In the mid-1960s, Thad teamed up with Mel Lewis to form and co-lead The Jazz Orchestra Mel Lewis.aaathadjonesmelaaathadmagnif In many respects this was a turning point in Thad’s career because it was here that his playing began to take second place alongside the development of his work as composer and arranger. At the end of the 1970s, Thad emigrated to Denmark, where he continued his writing, now for the Danish Radio Big Band and his own band, Eclipse. In 1985 he was briefly leader of the Count Basie Orchestra, a role that ended a few months before his death. Like his brother Hank, Thad was influenced by bop and was a gifted and harmonically advanced soloist, his sound being especially attractive when he played flügelhorn. (Late in life, a lip injury prompted him to occasionally play trombone.) This said, Thad’s legacy is the large library of big band compositions and arrangements that vividly demonstrate his skill that extended over many aspects of jazz and popular music.

Four years younger than Thad and nine younger than Hank, Elvin (born Elvin Ray in Pontiac on 9 September 1927) played drums with local bands and also in the army before joining Billy Mitchell. From the mid-1950s he was one of the foremost drummers in bop, working with musicians such as Donald Byrd, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Rollins, before joining John Coltrane’s quartet. The five years he spent with Coltrane secured his place among the most notable and influential of jazz drummers. Thereafter and for the rest of his life he was mostly leader of small groups, toured internationally, playing concerts and festival dates. Musicians who fronted the groups Elvin drove included George Coleman, Joe Farrell, and Wilbur Little, and he also recorded with Art Pepper. Elvin’s career as small group leader continued with the Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine and he worked to within a few months of his death.aaaelvinvvangaaaelvinrd The last two decades of his career showed Elvin to be a hugely accomplished drummer, his style ranging from bop to free, his technique being exceptional. This last-named quality allowing him to become far more than an accompanist or a mere setter of the beat. A powerful and dominating presence on the bandstand, Elvin Jones created cascading yet intricately formed sheets of sound far beyond the grasp of most of his fellow drummers in jazz.

So, in the case of the Jones boys was blood or environment the factor that drove them to become exceptional and significant figures in jazz? A simple answer is not easy. Clearly, the same blood ran in the veins of them all and their early childhood years were spent in the same environment. This said, and perhaps clouding rather than illuminating the picture, a strong argument can be made that sibling inspiration was one of the keys to their success. Whatever the answer, there can be no doubt that Hank, Thad and Elvin Jones were important, valuable, admired and much-missed musicians

Hank Jones: 31 July 1918 – 16 May 2010

Thad Jones: 28 March 1923 – 20 August 1986

Elvin Jones: 9 September 1927 – 18 May 2004

The album covers illustrated above are just a few of the dozens of albums made by each of the Jones brothers, all of which can be found at walk-in and on-line stores, including Amazon.

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