I’m Alright Jack: Mr Jones returns to serenade us and celebrate turning 80
PUBLISHED: 09:16 13 January 2018
Sinatra anointed him his heir. He’s released 70 albums, won Grammys and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Now Jack Jones is visiting the region as part of a tour celebrating turning 80 this weekend.
When Frank Sinatra calls you ‘one of the major singers of our time’ you know you’re doing something right. And it’s fair to say that Jack Jones has been as right as they get for over six decades.
This five-time nominated, two-time Grammy Award winner performs around the globe to sold-out audiences in venues ranging from jazz clubs to the London Palladium as well as his natural habitat of Las Vegas. He has even sung at the White House and has his own Hollywood Walk of Fame star right next to his father’s, the singer-actor Allan Jones.
A professional singer since 1957, and one of the world’s best loved crooners who mixes swing and jazz with a back catalogue of easy listening classics, he is a bona fide legend. As it says on the cover of his greatest hits collection: ‘Jack Jones is a very ordinary name for a very extraordinary singer’.
Tomorrow he turns 80 and is marking it with a special 80th Birthday Celebration Tour that brings him to the region as part of 14 UK dates. Having always worn a tuxedo on stage, he still looks as elegant as ever and much younger than his 80 years, and is still enthusiastic about his performing.
“We’re doing songs from my last album and songs from way back,” he enthuses when asked what audiences can expect from this special tour. “I talk about them and my connection to them. It’s fair to say that I’ll be singing songs that have meant something to me throughout my career and songs that have always been favourites of my audience and myself.”
He adds: “It’s certainly going to be one big celebration.”
He has some much loved hits to draw upon with numbers such as The Impossible Dream, Wives and Lovers, Lollipops and Roses, Call Me Irresponsible, If You Ever Leave Me and Lady, The Race Is On.
You can almost certainly hum along to at least one of his tunes. Yet a strange quirk of his lengthy career is that he has never actually had a Top 75 single in Britain, despite been a big star on this side of the Atlantic for decades. In the 1970s he had a light entertainment show on BBC1 and dated Susan George and has performed on the Royal Variety Show several times.
He has over 70 albums to his credit and has clocked up 32 Top 50 hits on the US Billboard chart, including three number ones.
He was born into a showbiz family in Brentwood, Los Angeles. His mother was the 1930s MGM starlet Irene Hervey and his father who appeared in a number of films with The Marx Brothers and had a big hit with the song Donkey Serenade - recorded on the night Jack was born.
“Maybe I got my taste for music and travel right there,” he jokes. “I was born into a world where a lot of people who came to the house were performers.”
Though his father was not keen that his son followed in his footsteps, Jones embarked on a music career. “I think they’d much rather I’d have been a doctor or a lawyer,” he says, “but my mind was made up.”
He studied drama at the University High School in Los Angeles and at the same time received singing lessons from teachers especially chosen by his father.
He got the singing bug after one of his friends invited her father to sing at the school. His friend was called Nancy and her father was called Frank.
Jack explains: “My friend at school, Nancy, said, ‘Hey Jack you’ve got to come and hear my dad sing’. So I went along and I knew right then and there that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Years later Frank Sinatra would call him ‘the next major star of show business’. High praise indeed. Judy Garland also called him “the best jazz singer in the world”.
When you get praise like that it has to mean something. “To hear things like that is wonderful,” he says. “It meant the people I admired, those who had worked hard to get where they were, were appreciating what I was trying to do.”
Speaking of Garland jogs his memory. “The thing with those people was if they wanted to see you they gave you their undivided attention. I remember when Judy Garland came to see me at The Coconut Grove. She didn’t take her eyes from my performance the whole time and she wouldn’t speak to anyone.”
Inspired by his early brush with Sinatra, Jack’s professional debut was a brief stint as part of his father’s act at the Thunderbird Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas when he was just 19. He went out on his own three weeks later but success eluded him and he was forced to work odd jobs to support himself.
His first break came when a demo he recorded found its way to Capitol Records. Although he left Capitol after a few singles and an album, one song — This Could Be the Start of Something Big — caught the attention of a San Francisco club owner who booked him for a three week run. He was discovered by Pete King, a producer and artist for Kapp Records, who quickly signed him to the label.
Jack was still working at a petrol station when his first album on Kapp was released. He recalls: “I was washing a windscreen one day when I heard one of my songs on the radio. I remember thinking maybe I can give up the day job now!”
He went on to release a further 21 albums with Kapp before switching to the RCA label in 1968.
“I was lucky I had my first hit when I was only 23,” he said. “Singers were treated so badly in those days. It was: ‘Get over there, shut up, don’t be on long’. A stripper would open for you. I remember playing this terrible club in Brooklyn. The piano was out of tune. I said to the guy: “I can’t work with this piano.” He said: “Wha’ d’ya mean? I just had it painted.”
One secret to his lengthy career has been his love of a well crafted song. This led him to perhaps his biggest success, the theme to the TV show The Loveboat.
He recalls: “The writers wanted me to do it and asked me but I was pretty stupid because I didn’t think anyone would watch a show about a cruise ship – how wrong can you be!”
Although Jack has been hailed as one of the top singers in the world by many artists including Tony Bennett , Mel Torme and Paul Williams, conveying the feeling of a song didn’t always come naturally.
“My first manager was a former singer, Jack Leonard, and he told me I really needed to understand what I was singing about. He said I needed to fall in love. So I did. And then he said now if she’d only leave you then you’d know what you’re singing about….and she did!”
• Jack Jones will be performing at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, on January 26.
• He is also at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, on February 8.
Thanks to Frank
Frank Sinatra inspired a schoolboy Jack Jones and then anointed him his heir. And on his last album, Seriously Frank, paid tribute. Recording the album was a labour of love with a 22-piece orchestra. But what is it about Sinatra that makes him stand out to Jack? “It was his sense of rhythm and his understanding of the words and emotions. He was able to convey the full meaning of the songs. He was the first of the pop-jazz swingers.”