Isham Jones, Isham Edgar Jones (January 31, 1894 – October 19, 1956) was an American bandleader, saxophonist, bassist and songwriter.
Isham Jones was born in Coalton, Ohio, to a musical and mining family, and grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, where he started his first band. In 1911 one of Jones’ earliest compositions “On The Alamo” was published by Tell Taylor Inc. (Taylor had just formed a publishing company the year before when his song “Down By The Old Mill Stream” became a big hit.)
In 1915 Isham Jones moved to Chicago, Illinois, which remained his home base until 1932, when he reestablished himself in New York City. Jones also toured England with his orchestra in 1925.
The Isham Jones band made a series of popular gramophone records for Brunswick throughout the 1920s. He led one of the most popular dance bands in the 1920s and 1930s. His first successful recording, Wabash Blues written by Dave Ringle and Fred Meinken, was recorded in 1921 by Isham Jones and his Orchestra. This million-seller stayed twelve weeks in the U.S. charts, six at No. 1. Noted musicians who played in Jones’ band included Louis Panico, Benny Goodman (although he did not make any records during the short time he was with them), Woody Herman, Walt Yoder, and Roy Bargy. Reed virtuoso Al Gallodoro appeared briefly with Jones in 1933, taking part in a record date October 3.
Isham Jones was reportedly a strict taskmaster and was known for being rather cold and distant. His lushly romantic compositions seem at odds with his reported personality.
From the start, his Brunswick records were extremely popular. There was a gap from October 1927 to June 1929 where Jones did not record due to disbanding and reorganization.
From 1929 to 1932, his Brunswick recordings became even more sophisticated with often very unusual arrangements (by Gordon Jenkins and others; Jones was his own arranger early on, but cultivated others for offbeat arrangements). During this period, Jones started featuring violinist Eddie Stone as one of his regular vocalists. Stone had an unusual, almost humorous tone to his voice. His other vocalists included Frank Sylvano, Billy Scott, Arthur Jarrett and Stone beginning in 1929 and in 1932, he added Joe Martin, another of the band’s violinists, as a frequent vocalist. In April that year, young Bing Crosby recorded two sessions with Jones’ group which included “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Crosby at this point in his career was still singing in a jazz idiom, transitioning to his better known “crooner” style.
In August 1932, Isham Jones signed with Victor, and these records are generally considered among the very best arranged and performed commercial dance band records of the Depression era. Victor’s recording technique was especially suited to Jones’ band. In October 1932, he teamed up with the Three X Sisters in New York who had just departed from CBS radio. They recorded “experimental” songs for RCA Victor which Jones began to fuse jazz and early swing music. They recorded “Where, I Wonder Where?” and “What Would Happen To Me If Something Happened To You.” His Victor releases had an almost symphonic sound, often with a strong use of tuba. He stayed with Victor until July 1934, when he signed with Decca. (Jones’ recordings during this period rivaled Paul Whiteman and other dance orchestras as examples of the very best and most popular dance music of the era.)
Jones’ Decca recordings are often unfavoribly compared to his Victor recordings. He continued the same high standard of fine arrangements and well chosen songs (as well as bunch of rerecordings of his Victor hits), but Decca’s flat recording technique made his Decca’s sound like it was a smaller band, which it wasn’t. After he left Decca in 1936, he again retired and his orchestra was taken over by band member Woody Herman. Jones started a new band in 1937-38 and recorded a handful of sessions under the ARC labels: Melotone, Perfect and Banner.
In the 1940s, Isham Jones resided on his poultry farm in Colorado, which he occasionally left for short tours with pickup bands. He later resided in Los Angeles. He moved to Hollywood, Florida in 1955, and died there of cancer in 1956. (He is interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, and perhaps for that reason is often erroneously listed as having died in Hollywood, California.)
His great-nephew is the noted jazz drummer Rusty Jones.