Landry, Dana

Committee Member

White, Jim

Committee Member

Casey, Brian

Committee Member

Zaremba, Drew


College of Performing and Visual Arts; School of Music, Jazz Studies


University of Northern Colorado

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Greeley, (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



351 pages

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Born digital


Thad Jones’s role as a big-band composer, arranger and leader of the famed Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra formed the basis for his international reputation in the jazz world. However, it can be demonstrated that Jones’s improvisational style as a jazz trumpet soloist directly informed his composition and arranging style. Long before Jones became an active composer and arranger, he spent decades performing as a soloist with various small groups. Jones spent his formative years in Pontiac, Michigan playing with the Arcadia Club Band, a family band formed by his uncle, where he worked alongside his brother Hank Jones. Jones continued to develop his skills as a musician at the acclaimed Bluebird Club in Detroit from 1952-1954, where he performed approximately six nights each week in the house band. The band included saxophonist Billy Mitchell, pianist/vibraphonist Terry Pollard (later replaced by Tommy Flanagan), bassist James “Beans” Richardson, and Jones’s younger brother Elvin Jones on drums.1 Jones’s two-year engagement at the Bluebird eventually led to his collaborations with artists such as Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Frank Wess, Sonny Stitt, Pepper Adams and Charles Mingus. 1 Mark Stryker, Jazz From Detroit (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2019), 160. The focus of this research document lies in the relationship of Jones’s improvised solos with his compositions and arrangements, and how his musical language is consistent between his writing and playing. Through the strategic analysis of several transcribed cornet, trumpet, and flugelhorn solos of Thad Jones, specific nuances in his improvisations can be directly related to his style and language as a big-band composer and arranger. Currently there are few sources that provide a detailed analysis specific to Jones as a jazz trumpet soloist and performer. This document will be beneficial to jazz students and scholars as it provides an understanding of how Jones developed his unique musical voice and how it continues to captivate audiences and listeners to this day. Through this research, jazz enthusiasts will discover the improvisational style of Thad Jones and learn how improvisation and composition are interconnected. This research examines the style, structure, and sound of jazz trumpeter Thad Jones between 1953-1986, the years Jones was most active as a performer and composer. Through the analysis of selected transcribed solos recorded by Jones in various small groups from the beginning to the end of his career, this study aims to discover the melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and sound conception that can be ascribed to the jazz trumpeter. Thorough and detailed analyses of the transcriptions aim to unveil his talents as a jazz trumpeter that are often overshadowed by the fame he has earned as a writer and bandleader.

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