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Calvin Jones Dies; Began Jazz Program at UDC

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2004; Page B07

Calvin J. Jones, 75, a well-known musician, composer and arranger and the founder and director of the University of the District of Columbia's jazz studies program, died of a heart attack after surgery Oct. 10 at Prince George's Hospital Center.

Mr. Jones was recognized two weeks ago as UDC's faculty member of the year, for creating its respected jazz studies program and for producing the top collegiate jazz ensembles in the region. He also guided the development of the university's jazz archives.

In addition to his work directing, composing and arranging, Calvin J. Jones was a well-known trombonist, bassist and pianist. (University Of The District Of Columbia)

He was equally well known as a trombonist, bassist and pianist who worked with Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, among other greats. He played with major touring bands at the Wolf Trap jazz festival and the Beale Street jazz festival. He also played with the Howard University Jazz Repertory Orchestra, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the legendary orchestra of the Howard Theater.

Mr. Jones was the first African American musician to play in the Washington Redskins Professional Band (not the marching band) since its founding; he played trombone in it from 1965 to 1983. He was also the first African American musician to play for the Ice Capades in Washington, said Sam Shrieber, who hired him for a wide variety of venues over the years.

Mr. Jones was also, if not the first, among the first African Americans to play in the pit orchestra at the National Theatre, said Ed Walters, the musical director of the theater who started working there after Mr. Jones.

"Calvin was one of the leading freelance musicians in the area, one of the most talented and popular players in town," Walters said. "He was a real 'people' person, someone that people were always glad to be around."

Mr. Jones composed and arranged musical works for "Remembering U Street" at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington and conducted the Blues Alley Big Band in a program devoted to the Calvin Jones Library.

"His passing will leave an incredible void in our music program but also in the lives of those he touched. Calvin's impact on the University of the District of Columbia was rich and unmistakable," said Charles J. Ogletree, chairman of UDC's board of trustees.

A Washington Post review in 1989 noted that he was "clearly inspired by the great jazz composers and arrangers, yet his approach to their work is anything but derivative."

He wrote or arranged virtually all the selections on the recordings UDC Jazz Ensemble '93, UDC Jazz Ensemble 2001, UDC Small Jazz Ensembles '90, UDC Jazz Ensemble '88 and "In the Lion's Den."

Born in Chicago, Mr. Jones grew up in Memphis and received a bachelor's degree from Tennessee State University. He served in the Army from 1955 to 1957, playing in the 75th Army Band at Fort Belvoir. He stayed in the Washington area after his service ended and began playing gigs around town, including at the Howard Theater.

In the 1960s, Mr. Jones began teaching music in three of the District's elementary schools. He also taught at Cardozo High School, where he wrote the school marching band's music. He received a master's degree in music education from Howard University in 1970.

He joined UDC in 1976 and by 1984 established its jazz studies program. Three years later, a shortage of money threatened the department's future, "definitely not the kind of riff you want to hear," Mr. Jones told Washington Post writer Richard Harrington. The program survived and thrived.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Martha Jones of Washington; four children, Patricia Lowery of Waldorf, Calvin Jones Jr. of Washington, Linda Jones of Washington and Keith Jones of Temple Hills; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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