The New York Times is reporting that revered jazz pianist Hank Jones has died at the age of 91. Jones was Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist from 1947 to 1953 and a favorite sideman of players like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, and Benny Goodman among many others. He also frequently worked as a studio musician on radio and television programs like The Ed Sullivan Show at CBS, and famously backed Marilyn Monroe on her salacious rendition of “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy.
Despite these landmark associations, Jones had a relatively lower profile compared to his brothers, Thad and Elvin, who worked with Count Basie and John Coltrane, respectively, before forming celebrated combos of their own. However, Hank Jones began to move further into the spotlight in his 60s by performing and recording under his own name, and experimenting with introducing West African rhythms, string quartets, and traditional hymns into his usual jazz idiom, earning plenty of critical praise for his efforts. His recording career was so prolific, it can only be roughly estimated that Jones can be heard on more than 1000 albums—an imprint on the history of music that earned him a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys just last year. Never one to rest on his laurels, Jones kept working right up until his death, reluctantly canceling a spring European tour under doctors’ orders and scheduling a summer show at the Birdland to celebrate his birthday.