Jones was born October 7, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois but raised in Birmingham, Alabama. He worked as a drummer and tap dancer at carnival shows until joining Walter Page’s band in the late 1920s. In 1933, Jones joined Count Basie’s band and he played with them until 1948 except for 1944 to 1946 when he was in the military.
After leaving Count Basie, Jones led his own group and recorded several albums, including “The Jo Jones Special” (1955), “The Drums” (1973), and “Our Man Papa Jo!” (1985). Jones had a major influence on many drummers, including Buddy Rich, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, and Louie Bellson. He was designated a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985.