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Sunday, April 21, 2024

‘A dynamite guy’ – Loved ones reflect on the life of jazz legend Mingo Jones

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Bassist Mingo Jones was a rising star on the famed streets of Indiana Avenue in the mid 1900s, but those who knew him personally can attest that his greatest qualities were found off stage. Friends and family remember Jones as a man with strong willpower, a playful spirit and a thoughtful mind.

“They think he was a charmer, a player and that he was all about this world,” said his wife, Brenda Barnes-Jones. “He was intellectual, but he had a joking state about him that made people think he’s just a kidder. But he was serious; he knew the Lord, and he could pray. He would not show that side to the world. Only I would know it, or people who were really close to him.”

Barnes-Jones, who worked as a nurse, met Jones when he visited what is now Eskenazi Hospital for a procedure. They started to talk, and he eventually invited her out to hear him play at the zoo. She was a divorcee who was not actively looking for love, but she showed up at the zoo anyway and reconnected with Jones. Their relationship took off from there.

Jones was born in Missouri, but he came to Indiana as a young man looking for work. Barnes-Jones said Jones’ love for music started when he was a child. His father, sister and uncle were all musically inclined, so when he picked up his first instrument, the trumpet, he was following in the footsteps of his family. Over time, the community started to notice his talent.

Jones understood music as a form of therapy, both for himself and his audience. Jones enlisted in the military, and while serving overseas, he loved to use music to uplift the spirits of those around him. During the Korean War, there were plenty of soldiers who needed uplifting. He continued to hone his craft overseas, where he grew fond of playing the bass.

“Bob Hope, a very famous entertainer, would take bands overseas, and those bands would have the protection of the United States. The African-American bands went into the areas where Bob Hope wouldn’t go. The African-Americans were on the front lines, and my husband was shot at. (Black Soldiers) also needed music to soothe their souls, and that’s what my husband’s band would provide,” said Barnes-Jones.

Jones returned to Indiana after the war and started to play on Indiana Avenue. In his heyday, he performed alongside local legends Wes Montgomery and Pookie Johnson. While at a gig, Jones met a man named Albert Coleman, who operated a nightclub on Indiana Avenue and played in a band called The Three Souls. The pair hit it off and formed a decades-long friendship.

“The first time I met him, he was new in town. He was stationed at Fort Harrison. I’ve known him many, many years,” said Coleman. “In Indianapolis, musicians always had some type of job to put food on the table. He was very exceptional because he was a bass player who was so in demand that he made enough money to not need another job.”

Rob Dixon with the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, an organization dedicated to sharing Indiana’s rich history of jazz music with the community, agrees that Mingo Jones’ role raising Indiana Avenue’s esteem was monumental.

“He affected the community because his level of musicianship raised the bar. The musicians (on Indiana Avenue) had an international influence. Everyone knew Indiana had great musicians, and Jones in particular helped build a great reputation of the music on the Avenue,” said Dixon.

In 2004, Jones was diagnosed with throat cancer caused by second-hand smoke intake, and his relationship with his music changed.

“He had never had anything wrong with his body, and then this came up. It changed him. It knocked him off his feet and he felt like he couldn’t do it anymore,” said Barnes-Jones. “He would listen to himself play and he wasn’t as sharp as he would have wanted. He was so particular. He chose not to play. What really hurt me was during his last days, he said he should have ‘got on my instruments,’ but the cancer took a lot out of him.”

Though Jones would not play, he continued to listen to music with a critical ear, often commenting on musicians he watched on television. When his wife drove him to the hospital, he would ask her to play his favorite songs. Barnes-Jones suggested that listening to music helped him endure what was to come once they reached the hospital, perhaps aiding his soul in a similar way that his music helped the soldiers overseas.

Jones died in his home on Monday, April 3, at the age of 88. Services were held Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Saturday, April 8. Dixon says the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation hasn’t planned any tributes to Jones yet, but he says they are likely to organize one in the near future.

“We like to wait four to six weeks (before planning a tribute). It works out better because the family is able to come, and it’s not such a melancholy event but a celebration of life,” said Dixon. 

Both Coleman and Barnes-Jones say that Jones’ determined spirit will be missed.  

“His wife helped him out a lot because she was a nurse. She took really good care of him. They say if you have a friend, you are blessed, because a true friend is hard to come by,” said Coleman. “He was a dynamite guy, and I can’t say nothing but nice things about him.”

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