RIP Rusty Jones

copyright tim spelios

copyright tim spelios


Isham “Rusty” Jones II died December 9 last year. Anyone, anywhere, in any line of work or interest would have been lucky to have Rusty in their life. His passing would be a huge loss if only for what a wonderful musician he was, but leaves a huge hole because of what a wonderful, singular person he was. Hundreds of people have shared Rusty stories and they are all based on the same themes of generosity, good humor, and great musicianship.

I had heard150px-RustyJones of Rusty before I moved to Chicago in 1979. My friend John Campbell had moved to town a few years earlier and was encouraging me to move up, often by telling me about the great players here. Campbell and I were talking about the most recent Chick Corea album “Friends”, which was kind of Chick’s return to JAAazz after his years of jazz-rock fusion. Campbell was pissed that Steve Gadd was the drummer on that album, and brought up a Chicago drummer who had worked extensively with Judy Roberts, George Shearing, and Marian McPartland. “It would have been a lot better if Rusty was on it!” he said, and that was enough for me to know that Rusty was a musician of the highest caliber. The first call I got in Chicago to play with REALLY good players was for Joe Daley’s regular Monday night gig at Orphan’s. I was 22 but not too old to soil myself a little when nervous, which I was. I don’t remember any of the first set, but I will always remember Rusty buying me a drink on the break, telling me how much he enjoyed my playing, and welcoming me to the Chicago scene. Everyone that met him on the bandstand has the same story.

Steve Hashimoto said, “I doubt there’s a musician below the age of 60 in Chicago who didn’t at some point get words of encouragement, helpful advice, or constructive criticism from Rusty.” I can’t imagine that’s not true. Rusty didn’t care much if someone couldn’t play- as long as a person was interested in playing, Rusty was interested in that person. If you couldn’t play, Rusty could tell you what to work on and not make you feel bad about your weak points. If you could already play, he’d make you sound better. If you were a really good player, Rusty somehow got into your head and knew what you wanted to hear him play, and he’d do it better than you had imagined. Everyone that played with him has the same story.

Rusty was so much fun. He was a natural entertainer, loved to share a laugh with others. He’d always have a joke ready and loved jokes with a long setup and concise punch line (the last joke he told me ended in “He was a super calloused fragile mystic, cursed by halitosis”). He was a very well-read man who could speak in depth about a thousand topics, and it was a great fun to hear him go on about Dostoyevsky in his Iowan twang and then turn around and speak in Russian (not the accent, the language). He had the greatest eyes that had a huge vocabulary of their own. The eyes told where your conversation had been, how it was going, and when there was a pertinent side turn in the near future. Everyone that met him has the same story.

Rusty was so thoughtful. He had hundreds of friends, but always remembered your interests and asked about your family. He always carried with him some of the thousands of photos he had taken, and often his first words were “Hey, I’ve got these from your gig with So-and-So that I want you to have”. He became a regular limo service to different people when circumstances didn’t allow them to drive. And if you wanted to just get together and play, he would make time for you. Most of the folks he knew has one of these stories, too.

The problem I have with trying to describe Rusty to people that never knew him is that he gave so VERY much and so VERY easily, in contrast to his being so VERY humble. Rusty was the embodiment of anything we know as “just doing the right thing”, and he did it constantly, consistently, and without thinking twice. Of course, Rusty would say something like, “Well shucks, it’s nice that you think that. What do you want to play?”


This album is Rusty’s last big project, an album for the great pianist Larry Novak that he and Eric Hochberg made happen. You can (and should) buy it, send inquiries to, $15 includes shipping.

photo by Bill Klewitz

photo by Bill Klewitz

Curt Bley found his ultimate purpose in life when he saw the Beatles’ second appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. He has been playing bass since age 10 and professionally since age 14, because things were different in the era of Three Television Stations. His playing has been heard with a wide range of artists from The Fifth Dimension to Dweezil Zappa. A mostly self-taught musician, Mr. Bley fondly remembers those two times in the ‘80’s when his educated colleagues agreed with his musical theories. He has been a mainstay on the Chicago music scene for 35 years and swears he is not done yet.

NOW LISTEN HEAR: Whee! Three Albums


One response to “RIP Rusty Jones”

  1. terraton says:

    Who could not agree? Rusty was the best!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.