Rolling Stones Bassist Darryl Jones On New Documentary ‘In The Blood’

For almost 30 years, Chicago-born bassist Darryl Jones has recorded and toured with the Rolling Stones, taking over for Bill Wyman upon his retirement following auditions in 1993.

It’s only part of a unique career path that has seen the bassist work with legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, with whom he appeared on two studio albums, and alongside jazz greats Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland and Omar Hakim in Sting’s first solo band, in addition to tours with artists like Madonna and Peter Gabriel.

The new documentary Darryl Jones: In The Blood traces the bassist’s discovery and pursuit of music. It’s an inspiring tale where the south side of Chicago doubles as a character, not just a setting, with Jones’ exposure to music courtesy of the public school system looming large.

The new film, presented by Greenwich Entertainment and available now to rent or purchase via streaming services like Vudu, Prime and Apple TV, marks the directorial debut of Eric Hamburg, who, from a political background, has worked alongside director Oliver Stone as co-producer on films like Any Given Sunday.

During a recent premiere event at Chicago’s ShowPlace ICON Theatre and Kitchen at Roosevelt Collection, Jones sat alongside Hamburg, engaging in a Q&A following a screening where he stressed the importance of growing up in a “two radio household,” one in which his father, a jazz musician, exposed him to Chicago radio stations like WVON, WBEE and WBEZ while his mother opted for artists like James Brown.

The new film features extensive interviews with Rolling Stones bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood alongside some of the final recorded comments by drummer Charlie Watts prior to his death in the summer of 2021.

The documentary traces Jones’ story to the present as he embraces his new role as bandleader of the Darryl Jones Project, tackling subjects like society, love and life via tracks like his latest single “American Dream.”

“I’ve been working on an album for more years than I care to admit,” joked the bassist. “But we’re just going to start releasing music. ‘American Dream’ is the song that plays right at the end of the film. And we’re just going to continue to release singles. ‘In the Blood’ I’m going to release at some point. Another one, ‘Games of Chance,’ is one of the songs that we play during the rehearsal [scene in the film] and I’m going to release that,” he explained. “I hope that we’ve made a film that young people can see and hopefully it inspires them in whatever area of life that they’ve decided to pursue. I hope that it’s an inspiration to people young and old.”

I spoke with Darryl Jones about the importance of music in the classroom, the impact of the city of Chicago on his playing, the influence of Keith Richards’ 1988 debut solo album Talk Is Cheap, similarities between Richards and Miles Davis and the story at the heart of In The Blood. A transcript of our video call, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.

What was it like for you being able to premiere the film at home in Chicago in front of your family and friends the way you did?

DARRYL JONES: That was really great. The question and answer from the room – many of whom were friends of mine – was both moving and funny. And it was just great to be home. I love Chicago. I’m a lifer, you know?

One of the things that’s fascinated me about your story even prior to the documentary is the way that you had music from such a young age in school at Chicago Vocational High School. Because you look around today and it’s always one of the first things cut from the American curriculum – the arts and music. How important was having that for you personally and what are some of the benefits of having that in the classroom for kids generally?

Jones: I can’t imagine anything that was more valuable to me being successful as a musician than the public school music system. And this particular school was just head and shoulders above the music programs in many schools. You talk about performance and art, it was a serious performance school. So I got three and a half, four years of basically professional experience playing in my high school orchestra. So it was invaluable.

I’ve done a little bit of reading about studies that show that young children taking music helps in all sorts of areas outside the music business. It helps with team building, working in groups, mathematics and certain ways of critical thinking. I think it’s a really big mistake for the powers that be to take music out of public schools. It’s an invaluable tool for anyone.

In the film, Omar Hakim credits your playing to Chicago. He says “Those boys learn how to play bass… That’s bass.” Charlie Watts sort of hits on that concept as well. How would you say the city of Chicago informs your playing?

Jones: You come up in a music scene where the elder musicians are definitely commenting on your ability. If you are not covering something that they think you should be covering, you get called on it.

And there’s kind of a history of bass players going from people like Eldee Young. All of these guys that played with Ramsey Lewis. The guys that came out of Earth, Wind & Fire. I think there was almost just like a school of bass. I hadn’t really thought about that before. But kind of a school of bass where you cover what needs to be covered and you do it in an artful way.

So I think that is kind of a function of the Chicago scene for bassists.

The importance of listening is a concept that comes up in the film a lot. How important is it to everything that you do?

Jones: I think that’s also an invaluable thing. In order to play well with musicians, you need to listen to and pay attention to what they’re playing. Other than the actual physical act of playing an instrument, there isn’t anything more important than being able to listen both to yourself and make judgments about what you need to do to get better and to actually play in an ensemble. Those are the most important things. It’s the best way to educate yourself as far as understanding the masters and stuff like that.

Other than the basic mechanics of playing an instrument, I think listening is the most important thing.

Listening comes up frequently in In The Blood. But, in regards to your experiences with Miles Davis, you also cite the importance of watching. In the film, Keith called you “the third weaver.” So I’m curious, when you find yourself on stage in those moments, what’s the approach there, is it both listening and watching or is one more important?

Jones: It’s interesting. Because watching helps you to listen better. You’re just providing more stimulus and more information that you can use to play the song better – which is ultimately what you want to do. So, I think both are true.

I’ve heard you say that Keith’s Talk Is Cheap album changed your perception of what rock and roll could be. What was the perception and what did that album help it become?

Jones: Well, I think probably my first [impression] was Elvis Presley. And it would’ve been the earlier Elvis. The Elvis that was on television, “Viva Las Vegas.” Those movies. That’s kind of what I saw as rock and roll. I hadn’t yet gone back and really listened to people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard. So that was my idea of it.

Talk Is Cheap… I guess it was funky to me. And that was something that I was into. So it was kind of a way for me to relate to it in a different way. I mean, Bootsy Collins is on that record. So I think his being on that record and what he did. And then Charley Drayton and Steve Jordan, their approach to the rock and roll thing.

Rock and roll always was funky. But I guess for some reason – maybe that my friends were involved with it and the way that it maybe just swung a slightly different way – it really turned me on. And I thought, “Man… I really dig that particular direction.”

And it was actually Keith, originally, that I wanted to play with.

You mention in the film that connection to rhythm that both Keith and Miles have. Albeit in different ways, there’s also that pension for improv that they share. What are some ways in which they approach things similarly?

Jones: Well, nothing happens, for them, without there being this really solid bass.

You hear Keith talk about that in the film. And Miles is the same way. He told me once, he said, “Darryl, for me, if I just stand there and wait until the band really locks, it’s almost like I can play anything and it would work.” And the same thing is kind of like what Keith says in the film: “If the rhythm section is solid, then I can jab and joust and do all of these things on top of that rhythm.”

And that’s kind of why he’s Keith Richards, you know? He can take a good solo ride when he needs to but it’s just that connection to a really solid rhythm. I think they share it.

Omar Hakim also mentions in the film that he knew you’d groove with Charlie Watts. Entering that first audition, you walk in and start testing out a little James Brown – and everybody just kind of falls into it. How quickly did you feel that groove with him? How strong was it even that first time you played together?

Jones: I felt like he’s a solid and steady drummer. So that’s easy for me to grab onto. When people ask, “How soon did it happen?” It was almost immediate. With musicians who have kind of a basic understanding of that, it takes moments. But, with that in mind, I did learn over time how to play with Charlie better and better. And I think that, to be honest, it continued to get better right up through the last tour that we did. I think the more that we played together, the more it kind of solidified and the more we created our own thing.

It really is interesting – if you look back at the drummer and bass player combinations that exist in popular music, it’s a real specific thing. The rhythm section of me with drummer Al Foster versus me with Vince Wilburn or me with Rick Wellman in the Miles band, we’re all creating something that is very, very unique. In the same way that James Jamerson and the drummers that were in that band [The Funk Brothers] and The Wrecking Crew or the Muscle Shoals guys, all of those bass player/drummer connections create a very special thing.

And I’m really proud of what Charlie and I did over the nearly 30 years that we played together.

To that end, obviously nobody can fill Charlie’s shoes. But Steve Jordan is about as close, really, to that band in so many ways as anyone can get. And you go back a long ways with him. Especially over the last year, what has it been like locking in with him and developing a new bass player/drummer connection as the Stones continue on?

Jones: It’s great. I think Steve coming in, he’s a real student of this music. And he has definitely been listening very carefully. I guess I do it too. From time to time, you go back and reference the original music with the Stones. And sometimes you take things where it’s like, “Oh. I didn’t realize that before…” Steve is very much like that. He’s definitely listened to live shows and listened to the original recordings. And we’re just always kind of tinkering on that.

He and I, I thought we did a really great job on the first tour in the States. It’s gotten better on the last tour in Europe. And I think that it will continue to do so.

And very much because he kind of was a new addition to the band, I’ve also taken a look back and really tried to process things and really tried to come to the best kind of thing that we can come to.

It’s great playing with him. He’s just an incredible musician. Imagine playing James Brown with Steve, you know? It’s great. Because he really understands and knows about that music and what those guys were doing.

As live music has continued to make its way back over the last year, how important is that role it plays in terms of connecting people and bringing people together?

Jones: I think it could be our last, best hope. What can you say?

You think about why Stones fans are such fervent fans… Well, it’s because at the time of your development, your teen years and early adulthood, it’s almost like the music of that time is imprinted on your DNA in a way. So you take it with you as you get older and it reminds you of these great things.

Stones music, there’s so many of those things that it reminds people of or brings to mind. It seems to me, in South America, the Stones are somehow connected with revolution or people freeing themselves. It’s also connected to good times.

So I think it will continue to be something that’s really powerful that brings people together. And really makes people remember that there can be some cohesion in society.

It’s one of those things where no matter what your affiliations are, we share music. I think that’s a great thing.

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