So the Rolling Stones chose a young jazz cat to fill Bill’s bass shoes? Tanya Almor Gambale keeps up with Jones in the Stones 

Darryl Jones is between gigs. Between two gigs, to be precise, at LA’s giant downtown Dodgers stadium, home of the city’s baseball team. Helicopters buzz overhead, giving ongoing traffic reports, as some 56,000 people make their way to the stadium through an uncharacteristic afternoon downpour. Darryl and I meet in the bar of his Beverly Hills hotel. Dressed in black, and sporting shoulder length ‘locked’ hair, however incongruous this tall, dark, handsome chap may look against the slightly older group of seriously road-miled British gents he’s been hanging out with lately, he’s certainly right at home on stage with ‘the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world’, and enjoying every moment . “We had fun last night, the kind of gig you want to have in LA, the big city, with a lot of musicians there,” he smiles. “I can’t speak about what happens out front, though I did get good reports. On stage I have two big monitors, plus a 7500 watt bass rig behind me, so I don’t have any problem hearing it!”

Voodoo Lounge

It’s been three years since Darryl’s debut performance with the Rolling Stones on 1994’s Voodoo Lounge album, which was followed up with a much-publicised world tour. But the job of playing bass with the Stones isn’t something you just fall into, oh no. Did you cut your playing teeth with years in cover bands, endless mind-numbing treks up and down the country in the back of a cramped, smoky old MOT failure, practising for days on end, or doing endless auditions? Not for Mr. Jones. His first major gig was with jazz giant Miles Davis – the deep end gets no deeper. But Darryl hasn’t had it all handed to him on a silver platter, by any stretch of the imagination. He has worked his proverbial butt off from the age of eight, putting himself in as many different musical situations as time and age would allow, learning his craft, perfecting the groove which has made him arguably one of the most sought-after bassists on the planet. When Darryl got the call from Miles Davis, at the ripe old age of 21, he was ready. Invited to join the band in 1983 after an audition on the recommendation of drummer Vince Wilburn Jnr. (Miles’ nephew), he joined guitar legends Mike Stern and John Scofield, drummer Al Foster, saxophonist Bill Evans and percussionist Mino Cinelu, remaining in the band for two years. After a 14 month break, he rejoined for a further two years. During their working relationship, he recorded two albums with Miles, You’re Under Arrest and Decoy. It’s clear from the way Darryl speaks of Miles today that he holds the man in deep reverence, and, quite justifiably, sees him as his mentor. Darryl greatly misses Miles Davis. Following his experience with Miles, Darryl has gone on to perform with Sting (he was a Blue Turtle), John Scofield, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, Steps Ahead, Herbie Hancock and countless other legends, not to mention the plethora of people he has recorded with. The vast spectrum covered includes Joe Cocker, Pee Wee Ellis, Jean Paul Bourelly, Wayne Shorter, Joan Armatrading, Kenny Garrett, Branford Marsalis... the list goes on. He has become known for rock solid groove, driving 8th notes and flash funky slappin’! “My dad was a drummer; he is a drummer!” laughs Darryl. “He just never pursued it as a career, though he played in the service, and in a little a jazz band. He started teaching me drums when I was about seven or eight. I messed around with it, but when I went to a talent show at school, I saw a guy I knew, Angus Thomas, playing bass and it hit me that I wanted to do that! I didn’t even know the difference between a bass and a guitar, but the next time I saw Angus, I asked if he’d teach me to play; he did and here we are! We’re still friends, and he’s played with Miles, too, and bluesman Albert King.”

Sly to Basie

Darryl was nine years old. He and Angus went on to study music at Chicago Vocational High School, where the orchestra played everything from Ellington to Bach, Beethoven to funk. “I played bowed acoustic bass with the orchestra, and electric bass with the stage ensemble. We did pop tunes that were on the radio as well as concert music.” Listening to the varied styles inherent in Darryl’s playing, it’s obvious that his parents’ choice of music was equally influential. “My Mom was playing James Brown, Sly And The Family Stone, Motown, and my Dad was playing jazz, early Miles, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, so I got to hear a good mix of R&B and jazz.” Ever get to hear anything by some long-haired ’60s British R&B combo called the Rolling Stones? “Only the big hits which seeped onto R&B radio. Songs like ‘Satisfaction’ – that was out in ’64, I was born in ’61, so I remember that and some Beatles stuff – ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ – that, and James Brown is some of the first music I remember.” 

Playing with Miles Davis

“I learned how to listen,” comments the bassist simply on his time with the incomparable Miles. “Although that seems very simple, for me it’s the most profound thing that any musician can learn.” Wisdom indeed, but that can’t have been all Darryl picked up while hanging out with the man in the green shirt “A thousand other things that have everything and nothing to do with music,” is the philosophical response. “But playing with Miles facilitated everything that has happened since. Both because of my education from him, as well as the respect from having his name on my resume. When the Stones were looking at bass players, they looked at my name on the list and someone said, “Darryl Jones... who’s he played with?” “Miles Davis,” came the answer. “Let’s get him in...” And so it doesn’t matter who it is, that’s always been the reaction. I introduced Sting to Miles, during the recording of You’re Under Arrest, and that blew Sting’s mind! Miles had everyone’s respect.” Certainly – but presumably Miles’ gigantic reputation – as arguably the most celebrated jazz musician of the twentieth century – was amazingly intimidating for a young bass player on his first major gig? “He never made me feel that way,” Darryl states emphatically. “Before I played a note the day that I went to audition, he said, “Listen, if I don’t dig the way you play, it doesn’t mean you can’t play, it just means that I’m looking for something else”. In a way, he was trying to take care of me emotionally before I even played a note. Certainly, that one gig still casts a long shadow over the rest of Darryl’s admittedly brilliant career. “If I could play with someone again, it would be Miles,” he says. “Knowing what I know now, I’d love to play with him again.”

Sting too

After the demise of supergroup The Police in the mid-80s, bassist/vocalist Sting put a new band of predominantly young jazz musicians together for the Dream Of The Blue Turtles recording. Enter Darryl. But did he feel this was, for him, a gradual transition from jazz to the pop world? “It wasn’t too gradual when you consider what Sting was doing,” Darryl retorts. “I guess he did get a lot of jazz guys together, but when I think about the pop world, it’s more about his audience than anything else. It was 14 and 15 year olds – not everybody, but at the beginning it was young kids, Police fans, and I saw it as an opportunity to widen my possibilities in terms of bigger audiences, and different audiences.”


“I’ve done most of what I’d like to do as far as electric bass is concerned. Not all – I would love to play with James Brown, and some blues cats, but as far as acoustic bass – which I’m not quite ready on yet – is concerned, the whole world’s out there that I’ve never worked with. I’ve just gotten my feet wet with film scoring too, and I’ve been studying acting for about 10 years, getting some itty-bitty parts in films. I’m excited about that, but I’m working on developing my own music and looking forward to doing that.”

Favourite drummers

“I don’t have one favourite. Toby Williams, he’s a drummer from Chicago, Perry Wilson, who played with the O’Jays and Temptations for a while, Terry Morrisette, Robert Shipley who’s been playing with Chaka Khan and who’s a great drummer – incredible feel. Those are some of my favourites from Chicago. From the rest of the world? Charlie Drayton is one of my big favourites, Steve Jordan, Steve Ferrone is way high on the list, Omar Hakim, Vince Wiburn, – Charlie Watts is also very high on the list! – Steve Smith, Jim Keltner... I’ve played with many fine drummers; Dennis (Chambers) is amazing! His impact is like a double-barrelled shotgun with a serious ‘pocket’ thing happening, and we don’t even need to discuss the rest of it! Very cool, funny, kind of wild, all the musicians love him, he’s a great cat. Al Foster is, to me, the most original jazz drummer since Tony Williams, with a funk thing that’s so bad ! I hope I get a chance to play the kind of thing we were exploring with Miles again. God knows I’ve learned a lot from all the drummers I’ve played with.”

Getting the Stones gig…

“I’d met Keith (Richards) through Charlie Drayton and Steve Jordan who were playing with Keith’s band, The X-Pensive Winos. A little while after that, someone said, “Bill Wyman’s leaving the Stones”. I thought, yeah, he’s been saying that for years. But leave he did, and I’m wondering if I’ll get to play with Keith in his other band! I left messages with Jagger’s management, they called me, and I went in to audition, playing a bunch of their hits, which felt really good to me. A few weeks later I got a call to go and play through some of the new stuff . I went to Ireland, to Ronnie Wood’s place, and played through some of the stuff that ended up on Voodoo Lounge.” And that was that. Well, no, not exactly… “Then they were in LA, in ’94, and one night I went down to the studio, and met Keith, who asked if I’d seen Charlie. I said no, then he says, ‘Charlie asked me if we were going to play with you? We’ve auditioned all those guys, chose you to play on the record – I don’t think we’re now gonna go choose someone else’. Charlie said, ‘Maybe someone should tell him!’ So I’m telling you, you’re gonna go with us’, and that was the first I heard of it! Champagne was drunk that night – I remember celebrating. I’d felt confident that something was going to happen and that was the confirmation. I was very happy!” What’s the best thing about playing with Charlie Watts? “While he plays great rock ’n’ roll with this band, Charlie has the jazz sensibility. He’s really consistent, he’s like a clock. And he’s a sweet guy who’s very funny. People don’t know that about him, he has a great sense of humour. He can be very dry, or sometimes he says stuff to make you bust up laughing.” What’s it like hanging around with a bunch of Englishmen? “Oh, stuff starts wearing off on me, the terminology. I haven’t ‘gone to the bathroom’ for a long time! I’ve been ‘going to the loo’! There’s a few British terms that have found their way into my vocabulary.” What, like ‘bollocks’? “Bollocks is not one of them! It’s more little things like ‘have a go’ at this or that. It’s not the English slang that I’ve jumped on to so much, it’s just the way that Brits speak about everyday things.”

What’s the definitive Darryl Jones performance so far?

“The first Miles record that I did, Decoy. I like the work that I did on the tune ‘Decoy’ and ‘What It Is’, and also John Scofield’s ‘Still Warm’. In terms of advanced harmonic intricacies, I think ‘Still Warm’ is one of the best works I’ve done, but hopefully there’ll be some great work on the Darryl Jones album!” Which bass players around at the moment inspire you? “I really dig Me’Shell (N’degeOcello), Victor Wooten’s really great (of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), Victor Bailey’s a big favourite of mine, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, Anthony Jackson, Stanley Clarke I learned an awful lot from. More recent bass players would be, Christian McBride, Tracy Wormworth, and Armand Sabal Lecco’s very good. I’ll bet that the next revolutionary bass player will come from Africa, because those guys are using the instrument as a total instrument, not just a bass. It’s a drum, it’s a guitar, it’s a saxophone and a voice. Those guys are really stretching the boundaries.”

From Miles to The Stones

“When I look back, it’s been a dream come true to work with the people that I’ve worked with. I don’t want to make anyone feel weird by saying this, but because Miles was the first big dream come true, that has remained maybe the most special gig that I’ve ever had. And like I say, I hope I get to play with him again one day.”