A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has proven a surprising fact that many fans who fawn over guitar solos and charming frontmen may find shocking: The bass player is the most important person in a band. Namely because our brains have been wired to find rhythm more easily when it’s played in a lower tone. Anyone who has witnessed Darryl Jones on stage would have enough evidence to back the study’s findings.
In his 56 years on this planet, Jones, a Chicago native, has accomplished what few other humans can claim. By the age of 21, he was playing with jazz legend Miles Davis, appearing on 1980s-era recordings like “Decoy” and “You’re Under Arrest.” By 32, he replaced the departing Bill Wyman in the Rolling Stones, and has accompanied such artists as Sting, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, and even Madonna on countless tours.
DARRYL JONES PROJECT FEATURING NICHOLAS TREMULIS
When: 8 p.m., March 9
Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage
If you want to talk about guitar gods — look up Jones. Which is precisely what filmmakers Eric Hamburg and Rick English did. Hamburg is the producer behind several Oliver Stone films who courted the musician for a new documentary “Darryl Jones: Like A Rolling Stone.” The film is currently in the works, and the upcoming Darryl Jones Project show March 9 at Park West will be recorded for possible use in the doc. Project is a group that debuted in Chicago last November with another local, Nicholas Tremulis, as music director.
“I was very reluctant about [the film] at first,” the genuinely humble Jones admits. “I’m told I don’t see myself the way other people see me.” Jones keeps strong ties to his roots in the West Chatham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. His brother still owns their childhood home where the bassist returns for visits when he can get away from a heady schedule as an in-demand musician in Los Angeles.
It’s in West Chatham that Darryl Jones met bassist Angus Thomas (also of the Miles Davis Band) who lived a couple of doors down from the Jones family and taught young Darryl how to play the instrument. Vince Wilburn Jr. was another childhood friend who Jones accompanied in several local bands. “It was pretty common knowledge he was Miles’ nephew,” says Jones, recalling Wilburn called him one day and told him Davis wanted to hear Jones audition over the phone. “That’s how it all got started. He changed my life, he really did. What he did for my career is maybe perhaps the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Wilburn remembers, “When I first met Darryl, I looked at him, and I saw a young, baby-face guy with an old soul. And then I heard him play. Whatever this thing was in this young kid, it came out in the bass. His bass spoke volumes. Then I played with him and I was convinced. This was one of the baddest cats ever.” When a spot opened up in Davis’ band for a bassist, Davis asked his nephew for his recommendations. Wilburn had three people in mind, but he says, “the other two weren’t home and didn’t pick up the phone.”
Jones says through Davis he learned mostly how to listen. “The thing I think foremost I learned was how to allow what you play to be informed by what you hear musicians around you play, not by what you have been practicing or the ego trip you want to take but to allow what you are playing to be informed by the music that you are hearing in the moment.”
It’s part of the reason he’s been a a fixture with the Stones for so long, he says, even though the band still refuses to call him a full-time member, much to his chagrin. “It’s a pretty exclusive club I guess,” he jokes. The fact that Jones is from Chicago is a definite plus, given the Stones’ love affair with the city since the band’s inception, recording at Chess Records and alongside Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy to hone their sound.
“With the blues album we recorded, the general feeling seemed to be ‘You’re representing your town quite well,’” says Jones. “[The Stones] are so well-versed on Chicago music that it’s amazing to me. One of the things that was a revelation to me reading Keith’s book was how seriously those guys lived, ate, slept and drank blues music. And in their case it is not second-hand information or knowledge; they knew all these guys. So it’s been wonderful to be re-acquainted with the musical backbone of the city through their eyes.”
The music Jones makes with the Darryl Jones Project also harkens back to his time in Chicago, working with local musicians like Tremulis who are part of the Chi-Town Social Club he’s a part of, with Tremulis saying, “Musically we share a regional dialect, growing up with the same Chi-town pocket, so it’s easy to play together.”
Selena Fragassi is a Chicago-based freelance writer.