Papa Jo Jones: We Played Who We Were at the Time

: Chip Stern‘s 1984 Modern Drummer feature interview with Papa Jo Jones is still, in my opinion, the definitive piece on the great drummer. “It could only happen once,” Papa Jo says, telling drummers born after Papa Jo’s heyday, it’s impossible to play like Jones and his contemporaries. If we weren’t there, we missed it.

Over the years, every time I hear someone singing like Frank Sinatra or like Billie Holiday, for example, I think of what Papa Jo Jones says here. Our musical pioneers are teachers compelling us to learn from them to be ourselves.


Papa Jo Jones: It takes a whole lot of living to do what we did. That’s why I tell these little kids that came after us not to try to play like us, because that’s impossible. We were having a conversation about our lives. You weren’t there; you can’t know what we were talking about.

What I played had to do with who I rubbed elbows with…. We played who we were at the time. You can’t recreate that. You can’t copy that. It could only happen once. I didn’t have to play a thing. All I was doing was sitting there listening. I always was an audience, and I will be an audience as long as I live.”

Source: Chip Stern, Papa Jo Jones, Modern Drummer, January 1984


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