Like live music and dancing? You’re gonna love your time at the Healthcare Foundation’s upcoming “Celebrate our Future” gala on August 28.
Our outstanding musical host for the night, the Josh Jones Latin Jazz Ensemble, is an amalgamation of some of the best jazz and salsa players in the entire Bay Area. We first encountered them at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, where they brought the house down last month.
Leading the band is none other than Josh Jones himself, a percussionist with a 40-year pedigree.The 59-year-old Bay Area native said he’s excited and delighted to be performing on behalf of our organization for such an important cause.
“Healthcare in this country is everything—it’s one of the most important issues of our time,” he said in an exclusive interview last week.
“There’s a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and anything we can do to close that gap and make access to healthcare more equitable is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.”
Jones started playing music as a teenager in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, fresh out of Berkeley High School, Jones was a regular participant in drum circles at Sproul Plaza in Berkeley. He learned how to play Afro-Cuban percussion from some of the Cuban immigrants who played there. Essentially, this scene was the epicenter of the local world music movement at the time.
Jones eventually met Peter Apfelbaum, a gifted horn player and multi-instrumentalist, a fellow Berkeley High alum, and a force in the evolution of the Bay Area jazz scene The two began playing together on a regular basis. Apfelbaum founded the Hieroglyphics Ensemble and Jones played the drums. While in this band he befriended Don Cherry, the famous trumpeter. Cherry would go on to become a central figure in Jones’ career and life.
Together, Jones, Cherry, Apfelbaum and bassist Bo Freeman formed a third band, Multikulti. This quartet was the first band with which Jones toured. Later, Jones toured with another of Cherry’s bands, subbing for legendary drummer Ed Blackwell.
Throughout the 1980s, Jones shared stages with many of the jazz greats, including the likes of horn maestro Omar Sosa, saxophonist Steve Coleman, and world-music pioneer OJ Ekemode. Jones played in Cuba, Africa, and all over North America. Every time he performed, he says, his skill-set and confidence grew.
By the 1990s, Jones was playing local clubs with icons such as guitarist Charlie Hunter, saxophonist Joshua Redman and others. Around this time he also connected with Marcus Shelby and the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, thus marking his introduction to the jazz scene here in the northern reaches of Wine Country.
“I’ve been lucky to play with many of the all-time greats,” Jones said, looking back. “We have quite the variety here in the Bay.”
Jones, it’s clear, is himself no stranger to new beginnings. He formed his current eight-member band toward the end of the 1990s. Players have come and gone over the years, but the band always features some of the region’s best jazz and Cuban musicians and maintains a loyal group of fans that follows them everywhere they play. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the band’s regular gigs was San Francisco’s Pier 23.
And when Jones isn’t playing music or advocating on behalf of the jazz community, he’s teaching, passing along his knowledge to new generations. He’s worked with the jazz band at his alma mater, Berkeley High, and has led the jazz band at the Oakland School for the Arts, as well. He also teaches at local music camps.
No matter how you look at it, Josh Jones is a local treasure. We’re excited to have him join the family in our effort to provide equitable healthcare access for all.
While Jones declined to share specific songs on the gala set list, he suggested that audience members “keep an eye on all the players” to see some insanely talented solo work. He added, with a smile, that people are always welcome to dance.
“There’s something about this music,” he says, “you just have to get up and move.”