All That Jazz Violin

- a review from the Washington Post

By Eric Brace - Nightwatch (Washington Post Staff Writer)
Friday, May 31, 2002; Page WE05

In the fourth grade, Susan Jones passed a music aptitude test with flying colors. "They asked you which note was higher, which note was lower, and to tap out a certain rhythm," says Jones, whose rudimentary skills earned a note to her parents telling them their daughter should quickly start studying an instrument.

"I wanted to play flute, because it seemed so easy to carry," says Jones laughing, "but my mother hated flute so I ended up playing the violin, and that's worked out all right." A nice understatement. Jones is one of the best violinists in Washington, and in the relatively small world of jazz violinists, she's developing an international reputation.

Born in the Bronx, raised in Baltimore, Jones has made Washington her home since the mid-'70s. She has honed her chops playing in a ridiculously wide range of groups. "My first real professional band was called Ladyfinger, in the late '70s," she says. A folkie trio, they played the Washington club circuit for years. She played in several rock bands, at a time when few had violinists. "In a way I was a pioneer," she says. "Because the electronics of amplified violins were very primitive then, compared to now, I had to develop a lot of that sound myself, to get heard over drums and electric guitars.

Jones then took a gig in the country house band at Club Stabilesin Baltimore. " Chick Hall played guitar in that band, which was a great education," she says. But all the while it was jazz that pulled at her. "If I was playing a gig just for fun and not money, it would be jazz," she says. She points to the legendary Stephane Grappelli for her initial forays away from classical and into jazz. "There's so much joy in his music," Jones says. "If I were listening to him, you could tell me World War III was breaking out and I'd still be grinning."

It's clear in her light, fluid lines that Grappelli is her greatest influence. "That's true, but I hope I don't just try to cop his licks," she says. "It's that feeling of his I try to capture. If I can make people happy or move people the way he did, then it's been a good night, a good gig."

As a professional musician, Jones helps pay the bills by playing with area klezmer and mariachi bands, and hopes to join a Latin dance band ("I've really been listening to a lot of Cachao and other Latin jazz orchestras," she says). But to truly get a sense of her artistry, see her with her own band. She'll be at Staccato (202/232-2228) Sunday with guitarist Bruce Katsu, cellist Fred Lieder and drummer-percussionist Tom Jones (her husband, who will join in after he plays in "Hot Mikado" at Ford's Theatre that night). She'll also be at Bangkok Blues on June 25 (703/534-0095).

For more information, check out Jones's Web site, "Violin Dreams" is also the name of her CD, a nicely swinging work that I suspect Grappelli would approve of.

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