Talking with Tom "Bones" Malone about the Blues Brothers, Frank Zappa, Gil Evans, Blues & Jazz

"I think jazz and blues will be combined with new musical elements to create a new music."

Tom "Bones" Malone: Sliding The Wind

Tom "Bones" Malone is a multitalented jazz musician, arranger and producer. He is famous for being a member of The Blues Brothers band and a member of the CBS Orchestra, the house band for the Late Show with David Letterman. Malone was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Tom graduated from North Texas State University along with fellow Blues Brothers bandmate Lou Marini. He began playing professionally as lead trumpet with Brenda Lee at a club in Jackson, Mississippi. In response to a call from Warren Covington, leader of The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, he expanded into contracting musicians. After transferring to North Texas State University, Malone continued working as both a player and a contractor for a variety of groups.

Upon graduation, Malone worked in bands of Woody Herman, Frank Zappa and Blood, Sweat & Tears. In 1973, Malone began a close, 15-year association with Gil Evans, who exerted considerable musical influence on him. In 1975, Malone toured with Billy Cobham, in 1976 with The Band.

In 1970 after he was heard performing with Ten Wheel Drive and Genya Ravan, he received a call from Saturday Night Live, a new and revolutionary, late-night comedy show on NBC. Malone arranged for the show from 1975 to 1985 and served as musical director from 1981 to 1985. A single SNL comedy skit which featured John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd mushroomed into The Blues Brothers; Malone wrote the chart for that first skit, and then continued as an integral member of the Blues Brothers musical organization. 

As a studio musician, he has been heard on more than 1,000 records, more than 3000 radio and television commercials and over 4,000 live television shows. His first solo album was in 1992 “Standards of Living” and the second in 1998 “Soul Bones”. Malone's additional feature film credits include The Last Waltz, Blues Brothers 2000 and Sister Act. He frequently plays with The Blues Brotherhood, a Blues Brothers tribute band based in Pennsylvania.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was the first time you felt the need to play the blues & jazz?

I started playing saxophone in a rock n roll band in South Mississippi in 1961 at age 14.

How did you come up with nickname “Bones”?

It was given to me by a high school friend of mine named Bobby Simms.

"Jazz and Blues are unique music forms from the USA. Other cultures, particularly Europe and Japan, find this music fascinating."

How do you describe Tom “Bones” sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I play whatever I hear at that moment.  I express how I feel at the time.

Which is the most interesting period in your life?

My life continues to become more and more interesting.

Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

I have been quite lucky all the way.

Why did you think that the Jazz and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Jazz and Blues are unique music forms from the USA.  Other cultures, particularly Europe and Japan, find this music fascinating.

Do you remember anything funny from the recording and show time with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd?

John Belushi told me he was going to make me the most famous trombone player since Jimmy Dorsey.  As you now, Jimmy was a saxophone player.  He meant Tommy Dorsey.  I never told John about his mistake.

"Styles of music rhythms come and go, but melody, harmony and improvisation survive all change." (Photo: The Blues Brothers Band)

What’s the best jam you ever played in?

Perhaps Rio de Janeiro 1988 with Art Blakey, Robin Eubanks, Terence Blanchard and Peter Washington.  The club was still open at 6:30am when I left.

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

The Temptations/Supremes 1969, Woody Herman with Tony Bennett & Louis Bellson at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas 1969, Little Stevie Wonder 1970, Frank Zappa 1972,  BS&T Europe Tour 1973, James Brown at the Cheetah club 1974, The Last Waltz with The Band, Winterland 1976,  Gil Evans Tokyo concert 1976, The Meters on SNL 1976, Ray Charles on SNL 1977, Frank Zappa "Live In New York" 1978,  Blues Brothers tour 1980, SNL Band with Michael Brecker 1983-85, 1996 Olympics Atlanta Closing Ceremonies, Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Awards with Earth, Wind & Fire 2000, The O'Jay's 2005, Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page 2009, Jimmy Cliff 2010, Dr. John 2011.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Gil Evans, David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Paul Shaffer, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Stevie Wonder

What is the best advice ever given you?

Practice

Do you believe in the existence of real Blues Jazz nowadays?

Yes, but very rare.

"My life continues to become more and more interesting."

Are there any memories from Gil Evans which you’d like to share with us?

Gil Evans told me he got all of his arranging ideas from classical music.  "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn" by Claude Debussey.  All of the jazz harmonies are found in this piece.

What do you miss most nowadays from the 60s - 70s?

The quality of the songs being written.  Melody and harmony.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I hope to keep playing and arranging while changing with the times.

Which memory from Woody Herman, Frank Zappa, The Band and Blood, Sweat & Tears makes you smile?

Frank Zappa was not crazy until he was on stage.  Off stage he was a very organized businessman.

Would you tell me when was the best Saturday Night Live and Late Show with David Letterman to you?

Too many to list

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz and beyond?

I think jazz and blues will be combined with new musical elements to create a new music.

How has the music changed over the years?

Styles of music rhythms come and go, but melody, harmony and improvisation survive all change.

"I play whatever I hear at that moment. I express how I feel at the time." (Photo: Tom and Sally)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?

My lovely wife Sally of 3 1/2 years and my granddaughter Lilah age 2 years.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Santorini 1600 BC.

Tom “Bones” Malone has played with, arranged for, and/or recorded with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, The Blues Brothers, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Gil Evans, Frank Zappa, Billy Cobham, The Band, James Brown, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Al Jarreau, Ashford & Simpson, Average White Band, Baja Men, Barry Manilow, BB King, BeeGees, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Billy Preston, Clint Black, Bobby Bland, Bonnie Raitt, Boz Skaggs, Buddy Rich, Carly Simon, Cee-Lo Green, Chaka Kahn, Chuck Mangione, Cyndi Lauper, Count Basie, David Bowie, David Byrne, David Sanborn, Diana Ross, Dr. John, Earth, Wind & Fire, Eddie Murphy, Eddie Palmieri, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Etta James, Faith Hill, 50 Cent, Four Tops, Frankie Valli, Garth Brooks, Gato Barbieri, George Benson, George Clinton, Gloria Estefan, Gloria Gayner, Hank Crawford, Hanson, Harry Connick, Jr., Hector LaVoe, Herbie Mann, Hubert Laws, J. Geils Band, James Taylor, Jeff Beck, Jennifer Hudson, Jimmy Cliff, Jimmy Page, Joe Cocker, Joe Jackson, Johnny Mathis, John Mayer, Johnny Taylor, Jose Feliciano, Joss Stone, The Killers, Leo Sayer, Les & Larry Elgart, Levon Helm, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Little Milton, Little Richard, Lou Reed, Lou Rawls, Louis Bellson, Luther Vandross, Mandrill, Martha & The Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Meatloaf, Meco, The Meters, Michael Brecker, Miles Davis, Mongo Santamaria, Nancy Wilson, ‘N Sync, Neville Brothers, The O’Jay’s, Olivia Newton-John, Pat Metheney, Paul Simon, Peter Frampton, Phil Collins, Phil Woods, Pink Floyd, Pointer Sisters, Ralph MacDonald, Randy Brecker, Randy Newman, Rick Danko, Ringo Starr, Robert Plant, Ron Carter, Rubin Blades, Rupert Holmes, Sam & Dave, Samantha Sang, Saturday Night Live, Sheena Easton, Shirley Bassey, Solomon Burke, Snoop Dog, The Spinners, Spyro Gyra, Stanley Clark, Stanley Turrintine, Stephanie Mills, Steely Dan, Steve Winwood, Sting, Stuff, The Stylistics, The Supremes, Teddy Pendergrass, The Temptations, Tina Turner, Tom Petty, Tom Scott, Tony Bennett, Usher, Van McCoy, Van Morrison, Vicki Sue Robinson, Village People, Vince Gill, Whitney Houston, Willie Colon, Willie Nelson, Wilson Pickett, Woody Herman and many others.

 

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