“Jack Jones makes me swoon,” says KT Sullivan, cabaret singer, artistic director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, and Jones fan since she first heard his recordings and saw him on television musicals and late-night talk shows. “The first time I saw him in person was at the Algonquin in New York on his opening night — the night after I closed my engagement there. When I saw his tall, lean body, shock of white hair, and heard his amazing vocal control, that’s when I started swooning. I came back night after night. No one today touches your heart when they sing the way Jack does.”
In his 2012 Wall Street Journal review, Will Friedwald opined, “It isn’t the pure power of his voice that is most impressive. It’s the sensitivity with which he animates a lyric, a sensitivity that only increases with age.”
Reviewer Steve Holden, writing in The New York Times, called Jones “arguably the most technically accomplished male singer.”
“I believe he has the best voice of any singer of his generation,” says Mitch Gershenfeld, CEO of McCallum Theatre, where Jones performs on Nov. 23. “He is a local treasure and international legend.”
Jones rose to fame with his Grammy-winning Best Pop Male Vocal performance for “Lollipops and Roses” (1962), followed by his Grammy-winning “Wives and Lovers” (1963). Then came mega single hits, including “Lady,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” and “What I Did For Love” — plus theme songs for Love Boat and Love With a Proper Stranger, 50 albums (17 of which made the Billboard Top 20). Grammy nominations include the 1998 album Jack Jones Paints a Tribute to Tony Bennett.
Jones’s talent has roots in his family. His mother was actress Irene Hervey, and his father, tenor and theater and film heartthrob of the late 1930s and 1940s, Allan Jones. Technique was not important to the younger Jones, whose father insisted his son train classically if he wanted to sing professionally. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it has saved me,” says Jones, whose training enabled him to hold exquisitely pitched notes that seem to float forever.
“My father was trained in France, so he hired two teachers from France to work with me, to give me operatic training, but I was influenced by Sinatra. Like most teenagers, I didn’t want to do my father’s kind of music. All I did was listen to Sinatra. I wanted to phrase like him. I played Sinatra records all the time. It drove my father crazy.”
Jones reminisced about some of his early experiences in Palm Springs. “I went to Nellie Coffman Junior High. We had a little white house with no vegetation in what is now the Movie Colony. My mother planted two very small palm trees in front and called the house ‘Hardly Any Palms.’”
His best friend was David Crocker, a neighbor who built ham radios. “One day David and I took a walk, and came across this old house with individual colored wires around it. David was so excited when he saw the wires because he thought they could help him with his radio connections — so we dug them all up and he ran home with them. Later we discovered we had knocked out 300 telephone lines in Palm Springs. The police came and hauled us to the police station.”
Jones loves doing impressions. “I remember once when we were living in Palm Springs, I changed my voice and the message on my parents’ answering machine: ‘There is no one here. Just the robbers, and we are too busy to take your message,’ the machine said. My mother thought she was being robbed and called the police.” Even now, a Walter Cronkite sound-alike is apt to ask a Jones caller to leave a message.
As a child he never realized he was growing up with celebrities. “When I was nine, my parents decided to repeat their vows, and Ronnie Reagan [who was then married to Jane Wyman] was best man. He arrived in a white suit carrying a white shotgun to help with a ‘shotgun wedding.’ Suddenly he asked, ‘Where is little Jackie?’ And that is when I met the future president. I remember afterward my mother said, ‘I adore Ronnie, but I wish he didn’t talk politics all the time.’”
Jones, a local resident for more than 20 years, loves the desert. “I love the palm trees, the sand, the open feeling. There is so much serenity. I loved being against the mountains in Palm Springs as a youth, and still enjoy the changing colors of the mountains. We have the best of all worlds here,” he says.
Jones takes his desert citizenship seriously. He is spokesman for Samaritans for the Elderly and serves on the board of ACT for Multiple Sclerosis, hosting its annual Christmas Tree Lane fundraiser. For two years he was the McCallum Theatre spokesman and signed letters asking for financial support for the theater.
An avid tennis fan, the singer frequents Indian Wells Tennis Center during the BNP Paribas Open.
He often spends time in his Rancho Mirage office, recording or, with the help of his wife Eleonora, supervising answers to fan mail requests and orders for recordings from his website. The couple also travels a lot.
He recently made appeared as himself in David O. Russell’s film, American Hustle, opening in December with co-stars Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, and Jeremy Bale. He looks forward to going to Nashville early next year to record a country album.
Jones’ engagements include venues from the London Palladium to jazz clubs and theaters in the Philippines, Canada, San Francisco, and New York, where on Oct. 8 he received the Mabel Mercer Lifetime Achievement Award at Lincoln Center.
KT Sullivan said the Mercer Foundation has tried to honor Jones for years. “He is our Frank Sinatra,” she says. “Music is moving, but when it connects to the lyrics, it reaches deep into the heart.”
Jones’ transition from pretty boy pop singer to mature artist came after his early successes.
“As my career gained momentum, I developed a deep appreciation for well constructed songs with emotional appeal,” he says. “I was influenced by the great balladeers — Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Michel LeGrand, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman as well as instrumentalists including Gerry Mulligan, Buddy Rich and Count Basie.”
He has played Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the White House, and performed before the Queen of England. Stage roles include Guys & Dolls, The Pajama Game, and Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, a role his father played on stage. “It was a role I said I would never do, but the producer talked me into it,” he says.
His recording of “Impossible Dream” from that show earned him another Grammy nomination and always wins him a standing ovation plus critical accolades, including this from Steve Holden in The New York Times: “Best of all, his rendition of the 1966 hit ‘The Impossible Dream’ transforms this sentimental war horse into an anthem of personal determination, not only to keep moving, but to get better.”
And that is exactly what Jack Jones continues to do.