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Drummer Willie Jones III pays tribute to 'Fallen Heroes'

Drummer Willie Jones III
Rayon Richards
Courtesy of the artist
Drummer Willie Jones III

On his latest album, Willie Jones III honors the musicians who mentored and supported him: Ndugu Chancler, Larry Willis, Roy Hargrove and Jimmy Heath.

Willie Jones III — the leader, drummer, and producer — honors the undeniable contributions made by some of the towering figures the jazz world has lost in recent years.

Born in Los Angeles in 1968, Jones' earliest exposure to music was through his father, Willie Jones II, an accomplished and notable jazz pianist, who offered guidance and inspiration to his gifted son.

Dedicated to the further development of his skills, the younger Jones spent the next few years working diligently with acclaimed drummers and music instructors and began performing with distinguished musicians by the time he was in his teens.

He completed his academic training after receiving a full scholarship to the California Institute of the Arts where he studied under the tutelage of the legendary drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath.

The world lost drummer Ndugu Chancler and trumpeter Roy Hargrove in 2018, then pianist Larry Willis, and saxophonist Jimmy Heath, in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Through "Fallen Heroes," Jones celebrates his personal history with his musical heroes and the impact of each.

“This new album is inspired by and dedicated to these soldiers of the music,” Jones said. “My father played with Ndugu, who became one of my earliest influences as a drummer, and I had the great fortune to work with Jimmy, Larry and Roy right up to the end of their lives.”

To document this celebration of music and spirit, Jones convened longtime colleagues who shared the stage with many of these masters alongside Jones throughout the years — trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonists Justin Robinson and Sherman Irby, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist George Cables, bassist Gerald Cannon, vocalist Renee Neufville — as well as emerging pianist Isaiah J. Thompson. Collectively, the personnel represents the continuum of jazz and dedication to uphold the legacies of several acclaimed icons.

Listen for Willie Jones III on KNKX Midday and Evening Jazz.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.