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Friday, August 16, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Local Jazz Great `Melody' Jones Is Dead

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

When jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald rehearsed at Harlem's fabled Cotton Club, Derniece "Melody" Jones was there, playing pinochle with her during breaks.

At the Harlem rent parties, where African Americans raised money for rent in the early 1930s, Mrs. Jones warmed up the crowd and the piano keys until Fats Waller arrived.

And at Lofurno's restaurant and jazz club on 15th Avenue West beginning in 1982, Mrs. Jones held court at the shiny black baby-grand piano, her long, sandalwood-brown fingers skimming through her seven-decade, 700-song repertoire.

Mrs. Jones died early yesterday morning, 11 days shy of her 90th birthday. She had suffered from heart problems.

Mrs. Jones played at Lofurno's the night it closed in 1993. While she was in the hospital recuperating from a stroke the following year, the owner, Phil Lofurno, had that baby grand moved into her Central Area living room. He figured playing it would be the best physical therapy. A while after she returned home, he visited her. "She had seen me coming," Lofurno recalled. "She was at the piano and she hit the beginning phrase of `The Man I Love.' She cherished that piano."

Lofurno said a party planned in Mrs. Jones' honor is still a go at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 at Simpatico, 1815 N. 45th St. in Wallingford. A jazz jam is scheduled.

Mrs. Jones, the consummate performer, would have wanted the show to go on.

"She was a well-rounded musician," said jazz bassist Buddy

Catlett, who met her many years ago when he and musician/composer Quincy Jones played in a local band as teenagers.

Catlett suggested Lofurno hire Mrs. Jones. "She was one of the few people who was authentic. She was tutored by Fats Waller and Art

Tatum. They were the greats, the molders of what today we call jazz."

Mrs. Jones was born Aug. 26, 1906, in Chicago. Raised in Harrisburg, Pa., she moved to Harlem at 19. She performed there until World War II, when she left with the first troops to the South Pacific as a USO entertainer. She met her late husband, Theodore F. Jones, a career military man, and they settled in Seattle, his hometown, in 1957. He died in 1976.

Her music - rich, toe-tapping, mesmerizing - speaks for itself. She was inducted into the Earshot Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993, joining local jazz greats such as Catlett, Floyd Standifer, Chuck Metcalf and Don Lamphere. But what the passel of friends she made in the four decades she lived in Seattle speak most about is her character: sassy, cantankerous at times, as warm as an August dawn.

When Mrs. Jones had the stroke in 1994, Edmonia Jarrett visited her in the hospital and later helped during her recuperation at home.

Jarrett, a retired school administrator, had been trying to launch her own jazz-singing career. Mrs. Jones coaxed and chided Jarrett into giving it her best shot.

"She was a grand duchess, a lady in every sense of the word," said Jarrett, who released her first compact disc this year.

During a 1993 interview, Mrs. Jones said this about her music: "I try to put my heart into it. If they don't appreciate everything now that my hands are so full of arthritis, what I am feeling will still come through. It will affect somebody, even if it is a line of a song that reminds them of an old friend."

Mrs. Jones is survived by two sons, Joseph Spotwood of Pennsylvania and Marcus Young of Seattle; a sister, Carolyn Selvey of Pennsylvania; and a granddaughter. Services are pending at St. Therese Catholic Church.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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