Eldon 'T' Jones is in a smooth groove
With a name like Eldon "T" Jones, could he be anything other than a jazz saxophone player? Adding to the flair, his band is called N Touch. Together, they're an outfit based in North Portland.
There's a story behind the "T," says Jones, who'll play a Grover Washington Jr. tribute show Friday, March 1, as part of the Portland Jazz Festival.
His birth name is Eltia, so even after a name change to Eldon, his father's name, people called him "Tia" or "T" for short.
"It really doesn't stand for anything, just a nickname," Jones says. "I don't really tell people the story," although he consented to providing The Tribune with the scoop.
Anecdote aside, Jones, surprisingly, will play in the Portland Jazz Festival for the first time, even though he hails from Portland, graduated from Jefferson High School, and has been a staple of the city's jazz scene for three decades.
"I've played at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival, and several local festivals, and performed at some of the most popular jazz clubs on the West Coast — Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle, Yoshi's in Oakland and Spaghettini in Southern California," Jones says.
"When Jimmy Mak's was open, we performed there several times, and now the (local) spot is Jack London Revue at the moment. We did a Valentine's concert in 2018 there and it sold out, and a reunion concert in May at Roseland Theater that sold out."
He finally landed at the annual Portland Jazz Festival. "It's a big deal for us," adds Jones, 50. "The festival desires to reach a diverse audience, and that's one of the areas as far as connecting with the community. ... With me, someone who is pretty well known in the community, we'll reach that goal."
Jones grew up playing music in the church. His mother served as a singer, choir director and church musician at Mt. Sinai Church of God in Christ at Northeast 10th Avenue and Beech Street. He still remains very active as a musician at some local churches.
"I love jazz, but I consider myself as a musician just a voice, a healing voice," he says. "Some people categorize me as jazz, even gospel. That (gospel) style comes out of me naturally. ... I'm a Christian, but I play across the board; I'm known across the board."
His brother, Anthony Jones, is a drummer who plays in his band as well as with Pink Martini at times.
It's a family of musicians. His mother served as an influence, as did a grandfather and two uncles, all of them saxophone players.
It was his uncles who helped turn on Jones to the late Grover Washington Jr., a legendary American jazz/soul saxophonist and a founder of the smooth jazz genre.
Jones says he couldn't get enough of albums "Mister Magic" and "Winelight," and he plays Washington Jr.'s music at virtually every show. Washington Jr.'s hits spanned the 1970s-90, including a charting hit in 1981 with "Just the Two of Us" with Bill Withers.
"His sound was almost like a voice of a singer; he had a very captivating sound," Jones says. "The feel of the music just kind of grabbed me, like it was speaking to me in the most simple way. It's a beautiful sound."
Washington Jr.'s sound "wasn't as complex and harmonic as traditional jazz, but it's music that felt good. To me, musically, that's the goal, connecting with audiences with music that speaks to them."
The likes of Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley and Stanley Turrentine also have influenced Jones.
The tribute show, "Let It Flow for Grover Washington Jr.," takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, at Revolution Hall, 1300 S.E. Stark St.
Jones will play tenor and soprano saxophones, a la Washington Jr., and Philadelphia-based bassist Gerald Veasley joins the band — he played bass and served as musical director in Washington Jr.'s band.
Tickets are $25-$35; see www.ticketfly.com.
It'll be Jones' first time playing at Revolution Hall.
"I hear the room is really great for music," he says.