Celebrity Music:

New York|How This Top Jazz Drummer Spends His Sundays

Willie Jones III starts the day with basketball and ends it going to one of his favorite clubs to “just listen.” (O.K., sometimes he’ll play.)

Willie Jones III, in his home studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

  • Celebrity Music:

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    Willie Jones III, in his home studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

    Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Willie Jones III knows it’s not easy to make a living as a jazz drummer in 2019.

But he also knows that, for those willing to hustle, there’s a way. Mr. Jones started playing with Roy Hargrove when he moved to New York from Los Angeles in 1997. He went on to join the bands of Horace Silver, Cedar Walton and others. “Now I don’t have to make calls or send emails, because a lot of great musicians know me,” he said.

From Nov. 14 through 17 at Dizzy’s Club (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center) Mr. Jones, 51, will lead a quintet playing music inspired by his “all-time favorite drummer,” Billy Higgins, who recorded with Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk, among others.

When Mr. Jones is not leading a band or playing in someone else’s, he is teaching or recording. Twice a month, he flies to Chicago to teach in the jazz studies program at Northwestern University. Alongside Wynton Marsalis, he is currently featured on the soundtrack of the film “Motherless Brooklyn.”

Mr. Jones lives with his wife, Zooey Tidal Jones, a publicist, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

SEVEN UP No matter how late I’m up the night before, I’m up before 7. It’s because Zooey is not a night owl like me. I hear the TV in the living room. She’s in there doing yoga stretches. Usually, we’re on the subway to Equinox in Manhattan by 7.

BALL Zooey takes a class. I go straight to the basketball courts. I don’t have the discipline for weights. A lot of times, I play by myself, but I’ll also play pickup games. There’s a lot of cardio involved, which keeps Father Time off my back. I played basketball in high school. I like to say I’m pretty good. As a matter of fact, for a musician, I’m very good. For a musician over 40, I’m really good.

NO MENU REQUIRED Then we eat. We go to this place called the Smith down the street from Equinox. It’s one of my favorite breakfast spots because I know what to get: the caramelized French toast with bananas. It’s not the healthiest thing, but it’s the weekend.

CLEANING GROOVE When we get home I put on music, either jazz or ’70s soul. If it’s jazz, it could be Art Blakey or Max Roach or Lee Morgan or anything that features Billy Higgins.

If it’s soul, it’ll be Marvin Gaye or Minnie Riperton or Donny Hathaway. I’m giving you the obvious names. Also Al Wilson. I like to have music on when I’m cleaning the house. Sometimes on weekdays when Zooey’s at work I’ll make a mess. I try to clean up by the time she gets home but it doesn’t always work out, so I’ll clean on weekends.

SCREEN TIME If it’s football season, which it is right now, we go into our separate rooms. She’s in the bedroom, and I’m watching the Giants or the Jets on the big screen. I’m not sure how big it is. It’s huge. If I’m not watching football, then I’m watching an old detective show or movie. My mom turned me on to detective shows like “Perry Mason” many years ago, and I’ve seen them all a million times now but I still love them. Sometimes I’ll break down and watch something with Zooey like “Dr. Phil.” If I do, half of my attention is on my computer, checking the scores.

STUDENT SESSION We have a music room that’s full of books and CDs and records, and in the middle there’s a drum setup. It’s pretty crowded in there, but it’s where I give drum lessons. A student will come by from 2 to 3 or 3 to 4. Fortunately none of the neighbors have complained about the noise.

PASTA, NOT PILLS Half the time we’ll go out for dinner, and half the time Zooey cooks. I can make scrambled eggs, but it ends there. We’ll go to this Italian place that looks like a pharmacy on the outside, then you go in and there’s a bar and tables.

ZOOEY’S CHOICE Dinner happens early, because Zooey goes to bed early, like 9. We watch “60 Minutes” and then a show of her choosing, usually “90 Day Fiancé.” It’s not my favorite but she loves it.

OUT ON THE TOWN When she goes to bed, there’s a good chance I’m going to go into the city and listen to music. Usually I’ll go uptown to Smoke, one of my favorite clubs, but I also go to Smalls in the Village. Sometimes they’ll have a late-night session and they’ll ask me to come up and play, but I try not to do that too often because if I’m not actually on the gig I like to sit in the back and just listen.

JUST NOT SLEEPY I get back home maybe 2 or 2:30 and Zooey’s knocked out, but I’m just not sleepy. I’ll spend 30 minutes walking back and forth in the living room, then I’ll get in bed and put my headphones on. I’ll listen to Nat King Cole or Johnny Hartman. I try to get to sleep by 3:30.

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