Jazz Stars: Spike Jones

Today, on the birthday of Spike Jones (full name Lindley Armstrong Jones, 1911-1965) an American musician renomned for his first-of-a-kind recordings and pioneering performances, his life story and musical compositions played by him in the "Jazz Stars" column.
Spike Jones worked in the genre of comedy. He mostly performed satirical orchestrations of then popular hits with his orchestra. Lindley Armstrong Jones was born in Long Beach, California. When the boy was 11, his father presented him a small drum, which the boy enthusiastically mastered. The chef at a local restaurant, for fun, taught Spike to use pots, spoons, forks and other kitchen utensils as musical instruments, unknowingly determining the direction of the musician's career.

After graduating from Chaffee College in California, he was a studio drummer in a number of now-forgotten Dixieland jazz bands (Randy West, Everett Hoogland and Earl Burnett); for some time worked as a drummer in nightclubs, traveled around the country with touring musical groups.
From 1936, he performed with very famous orchestra under the direction of John Scott Trotter, accompanying the then very popular Bing Crosby. In the first recording of Crosby's most famous song "White Christmas," Jones was on the drums in the orchestra.

Jazz in its purest form soon ceased to interest the musician. He remembered the lessons he had learned as a child about playing on restaurant kitchen items. He was one of the first to work with sound effects, adding various sirens, bells, and shotguns to his drum kit, then began assembling combos on which he experimented with musical eccentricity.

Beginning in the early 1940s, Spike Jones became the leader of the big band "Spike Jones And the City Slickers" which he formed to parody the hackneyed musical phrases and cliché-ridden popular and so-called light music. The musicians seemed capable of extracting sounds from any object. They played pots, bottles, washboards, plates, car horns -- the list could go on and on. This noise and rumbling was quite organically woven into the jazz narrative. (By way of comparison, one could cite a rehearsal of Leonid Utesov's orchestra from the movie "Merry Fellows.) Jones was a great musical eccentric, all the passages and effects in his performances were thought out and calculated to a fraction of a second, and the performers extracted a kind of music from objects on stage. Any hit song of the time was taken as the basis, and sometimes a popular piece of classical music, sometimes new words were added to the lyrics, sometimes not, and a funny parody was composed.

Particularly popular in the forties was his own song "Der Fuerar's Face" (Der Fuerar's Face, 1942), a brilliant, topical parody of Hitler. During the war the ensemble performed for soldiers in Europe. A particular success was the "lathrinophone" a toilet seat on which strings were strung.

The name of Spike Jones has become synonymous with crazy and hooligan music. He became a cult figure, starred in several musical films and hosted his own TV programme, “Spiketaculars” (similar to Spectacular).

Over time, Jones objected to the fact that most audiences perceived him as a musical hooligan, forgetting his high professionalism as a jazz drummer. In the 1850s and closer to the 1960s Spike Jones switched to a more traditional combo (trumpet quintet, guitar, banjo, drums, vocals) and began to perform in parallel with "normal" jazz and dance music. There was success, but the audience preferred his eccentric performances.
At the end of his life, he performed mainly in Las Vegas. He passed away on May 1, 1965. Spike Jones' second wife, singer Helen Greico, appeared in his theatrical and television shows. Jones had four children.