Hank Jones’ Final Refuge

Here is a brief, moving blog entry on the New York Times’ site about the great Hank Jones who died this week at age 91.  Hank was not a regular visitor to 821 Sixth Avenue but when he was at Duke in the fall of 2007 for the Following Monk series he said he knew of the place (his brothers Thad and Elvin were loft veterans) and he knew and respected Hall Overton.   At Duke, Hank played spirituals and hymns from the magnificent “Steal Away” album with bassist Charlie Haden.  Some of the often paradoxical themes of spirit, dedication, and isolation that emerge in this piece are akin to what we’ve experienced traveling the country interviewing people in the JLP.  Make sure to read the responses from readers who are critical of this portrayal of Jones (Charlie is one of them) and then read Kilgannon’s response to the responses.

-Sam Stephenson


  1. jeff caltabiano Said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

    Sam, as a scholar who has written about the personal lives of artists/musicians, I’m curious what you thought about the piece? Was it an invasion of privacy and an insult to a great musician, as some of the commenters (Charlie Haden among them) argued, or was it instead a thoughtful tribute to the man and his music?

  2. admin Said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

    Jeff, thanks for the query. I come down near the “thoughtful tribute” end of the spectrum. I find this glimpse into Jones’ private life to be moving. It makes me want to put on “Steal Away” and think about Hank being born in Vicksburg, MS ninety-one years ago, moving to Detroit with his family as part of the Great Migration, then playing some of the most beautiful music ever recorded over six decades, and now living in this tiny room playing keyboards into headphones at all hours. I was surprised to read all the critical comments later. Maybe it’s because I’ve been inside some of these tiny rooms where musicians sometimes live. I can understand Charlie Haden believing his friend has been exposed in this piece, so soon after his passing, without the dignity and class that Hank carried with him in public always. But I think that aspect of Hank comes forth in the piece. I do agree with Charlie’s question about the landlord bashing in the door. But as Hank’s manager says in one of the comments, the landlord had been good to Hank in the past, so I assume he was operating on some level commensurate with the situation. This outcry against Kilgannon reminds me of when Benny Goodman died. Bassist Bill Crow published a piece in Gene Lees’ Jazz Letter documenting how difficult Benny was to his band members during a tour of Russia. Bill (and Gene) got hammered for running that piece so soon after Goodman died. But nobody denied the truth of it.

  3. admin Said,

    May 20, 2010 @ 10:09 am

    Make sure to check out the new comments, after Kilgannon’s explanation, by Charlie Haden and his wife Ruth Cameron followed by comments by Carol Friedman who is a photographer of note and who, like Charlie and Ruth, probably knew Hank personally for many years. This topic would be good for our courses at the Center for Documentary Studies where the issues of documentary ethics are never far away from almost any discussion (and nearly impossible to resolve clearly much of the time).

  4. jeff caltabiano Said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    Thanks Sam. I think the key here is timing. For many of the angered commenters the piece was too soon after his death. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that this room got locked up by the landlord for the next 10 years and was opened back up – untouched – in 2020. If the article were to appear at that point, viewing Jones more from a historical/sentimental perspective, I sense most of these same readers would consider it a touching tribute. Similarly, if Gene Smith’s jazz loft photos and recordings were unearthed, analyzed, and discussed immediately following his death, his family and friends might not appreciate some of the portrayals made of Gene in the book. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.