Violin Caliente
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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, www.violindreams.com. "Violin Dreams" is also the name of her CD, a nicely swinging work that I suspect Grappelli would approve of.

- The Washington Post


SUSAN JONES AND SETH KIBEL "Nuts and Bolts" Independent

- a review from the Washington Post

Friday, September 10, 2004; Page WE07

"Nuts and Bolts" derives its distinctive sound and considerable charm from strings and woodwinds -- primarily Susan Jones's violin and Seth Kibel's tenor sax and clarinet. Oh, and another thing: a cultural potpourri of influences that include, as Kibel puts it in his liner notes, "Charlie Parker, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Henderson and all of the ancient Jews and Cubans whose souls sing to me and help me create."

Those souls often sing softly and hauntingly here. On "Corcoran Blues," violin and tenor quietly evoke images of Grappelli collaborating with a like-minded jazz elder on tenor -- say, breathy-toned Ben Webster. The ancient Spanish Ladino tune "Los Bilbilicos" receives a chamber jazz makeover, via a fresh arrangement devised by Jones that features Kibel's expressive clarinet and Paul Wingo's fluid guitar work. "Klezmer Nova," which alludes to the bandleaders' shared background in klezmer music, may sound like a stab at a cross-cultural novelty. Yet the performance achieves an eloquent and bittersweet melding of styles, thanks to Jones, Kibel (again on clarinet), Wingo and bassist James King. "Olmstead Cha Cha," on the other hand, offers a sharp contrast; it begins and ends as a high-pitched rhapsody. But this version of the ensemble, which includes pianist James Levy and bassist Bob Abbott, deftly temper the mood along the way.

Finally, there's "Lester Leaps Out," an insouciant, Lester Young-inspired, Grappelli-tinted coda that makes delightful use of the nuts and bolts of swing.

-- Mike Joyce
- Washington Post


Maryland grad has been
charming D.C.-area music
lovers for three decades
By Emily Cary
Special to The Examiner
Susan Jones has filled the Washington
area with exciting music for nearly
30 years as a leader or member of ensembles
representing multiple genres
of music. Along with her popular Susan
Jones Jazz Quartet, scheduled to
jam on Woodrow Wilson Plaza Thursday,
she is heard live all around town
with the classical Silver String Quintet,
the Machaya Klezmer Band, Mariachi
De las Compadres and the Jane
Doe rockers.
A graduate of the University of
Maryland, the versatile freelance
musician has played with dozens of
visiting artists at the Kennedy Center,
Constitution Hall and Ford’s Theatre,
including Barry White, Dionne
Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Stevie
Wonder.
“I was trained classically, but I’ve
always liked variety, and in high school
I discovered rock and roll,” she says.
“The need to learn as much as I could
developed because my father started
to lose his eyesight at an early age and
I had no idea if the condition was hereditary.
“The first time I heard the French
jazz artists Stephan Grappelli, his music
brought me total joy. When I found
that I had a similar knack for improvisation,
I was thrilled. My goal became
to play like that and make people
happy.”
Jones’s first full-time gig in D.C.
during the ’70s was with Lady Finger.
Although jazz remained her signature
genre, she soon joined a country band,
a mariachi band and a klezmer band.
Recently, the mariachi band became
so popular it split in two to cover the
demand. Because it needed more violins,
she continues to play with them.
At the same time, she could not resist
joining the klezmer band because
of its spirited style and her own Jewish
heritage.
In 1999, Jones arranged and released
her first jazz CD, “Violin
Dreams,” featuring standards by Porter,
Berlin, Charlie Parker and others.
“Nuts and Bolts,” a joint venture of
original acoustic jazz by Jones and
saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Seth
Kibel, draws on their expertise in a variety
of genres. Released in 2004, the
track ranges from funk and klezmer
to Spanish folk music and bossa nova.
Honored by four- and five-star reviews,
it is currently in rotation on
WPFW/89.3 FM, WRNR/103.1 and
Whole Wheat Radio online.
Jones composed all but two of the
numbers on her latest recording, “Violin
Caliente.” She is backed by an ensemble
of drums, bass, flute, guitar,
trumpet, trombone, and alto and tenor
saxes. All her recordings are available
at www.violindreams.com.
Her live performance schedule encompasses
gigs at embassies, government
events, hotels and private parties
along with jazz clubs, classical
ensembles and local community celebrations.
“Most people hiring a jazz group
don’t think of sticking in a violin, so
that’s an advantage of having my own
jazz group,” she says. “I never particularly
wanted to front a group, but it
turned out that I can be funny and
that adds something to the performance.
“Because there are lots of great instrumentalists
in the area, I’ve developed
a pool of musicians I work with a
lot and am comfortable with. My regular
members, Bob Abbott on bass,
Brian Litz on guitar and Tom Jones
on drums, will play with me on Woodrow
Wilson Plaza. We always like to
please the crowd, so we’ll do standards
they recognize and also some
things that will surprise and please
them and send them away in a joyful
mood.” - D.C. Examiner 8/29/07


Discography

3 LPs:
Violin Dreams
Nuts and Bolts
Violin Caliente (tracks in CDbaby)
all in www.violindreams.com airplay on WPFW in Washington D.C.(89.3), WCNI in Connecticut, and Whole Wheat Radio on line

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Bio

I was first inspired to play jazz violin by Stephane Grappelli. Like Grappelli, my goal is to bring much joy to the listener. I've been told I can swing as hard as Joe Venuti, and play blues like Stuff Smith. I listen to more sax players now, like Charlie Parker, Joe Henderson, and Paquito de Rivera. My tunes come to me by inspiration, and are strongly flavored with latin and klezmer influences.