Who Is Jill Jones?
That question has confounded the public literally since the day she was born as a nurse tried to foist the wrong newborn on her unsuspecting mother! It was the perfect kickoff to a life that has been distinguished by Jill’s ability to adapt in myriad situations. As a solo artist, Jill Jones has proven equally adept at stripped-down ballads, acoustic narratives, cutting-edge R&B and chart-topping dance tracks. Her raw talent and mercurial disposition have enabled her to collaborate as a writer and vocalist with an unparalleled array of fellow artists: Teena Marie, Prince, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards, Ronny Jordan and Chris Bruce and more. Jill never fails to delight—and surprise—her listeners.
“There’s an emotion that I capture, and an honesty that comes across,” says Jill apropos of her art. “Whether a song is ultimately horrible or a huge hit, it’s still believable that I’ve been in that place I’m singing about. I’m quite the chameleon!”
From the outset, Jill’s life was unconventional. Her African American/Native American mother was a model and a singer; having worked as a Playboy Bunny, which undoubtedly influenced Jill’s forward-thinking attitudes about sex and sensuality. Her Italian father was a jazz drummer. With the latter out of the picture early on, and the former often traveling for work, Jill was raised primarily by her grandparents, amidst her extended family in Lebanon, Ohio (a small town between Dayton and Cleveland). Early on, she recognized that being different had its pros and cons. “I had troubles with teachers at school keeping me separated from my cousins, because they were darker and I was lighter,” she explains.
As an adolescent, Jill’s life would be irrevocably influenced by another artist who could appreciate the vagaries of pigmentation: Teena Marie. In the ’70s, Jill’s mother managed the R&B icon, and after Jill relocated to Los Angeles, Teena became both her artistic mentor and the older sister she’d never had. Says, Jill, “Teena started having me sing when I was fourteen. She taught me how to do harmonies, and I began doing backing vocals.” Teena took Jill to concerts and introduced her to Venice Beach, but also made sure she got to and from school safely every day. “She gave me the childhood I didn’t have.” Most importantly, Teena encouraged Jill to develop her own gifts as a songwriter and recorded a few of their early original collaborations on her seminal Gordy / Motown albums, 'Lady T' (“Young Girl in Love”) and 'It Must Be Magic' (“The Ballad of Cradle Rob and Me”) with Jill also providing backing vocals for those respective full lengths as well as ‘Irons In The Fire.'
It was in her capacity as a member of Teena Marie’s touring band that Jill first crossed paths with Prince, on the Dirty Mind tour in 1980. The two hit it off, kept in contact, and eventually Jill landed in Minneapolis. As a key player in the Paisley Park family during its heyday, she contributed her talents to albums including Prince’s ‘1999,' 'Purple Rain,' and 'Sign ‘O’ The Times,' the self-titled debut from Apollonia 6, and 'The Glamorous Life’ by Sheila E. Jill also appears in the films 'Purple Rain' and 'Graffiti Bridge.' Prince also pushed Jill to keep developing her writing skills, although his approach to pedagogy was decidedly different. Jill recalls that while working on a song that would become one of her early solo singles, the revered “Mia Bocca,” the two telephoned Italian restaurants late at night, trying to cajole whomever answered the phone to teach them risqué phrases in Italian! In 1987, Jill Jones released her eponymous debut LP on Paisley Park, an enduring favorite among Prince devotees to this day which spawned the fan favorites, “Baby, You’re A Trip,” “Violet Blue,” “For Love” [feat. Prince & the Revolution] and “G-Spot.”
In the years that followed, Jill continued to expand her creative universe. She featured on the song and video for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “You Do Me,” from his acclaimed 1989 album ‘Beauty’ and recorded “The Ground You Walk On” with producer Nile Rodgers for the soundtrack of 'Earth Girls Are Easy.’ Jones and Rodgers would work together again a few years later alongside Bernard Edwards, when she toured Japan as a member of CHIC, during Edwards’ untimely passing in 1996. Jill co-wrote and produced “The Great Pretender” for Lisa Lisa’s 1994 solo album 'LL 77', lent her voice to 'Still Life,' the 1994 debut from Paul Humphreys’ post-OMD ensemble The Listening Pool, and Italian jazz composer Paolo Rustichelli’s 1996 full-length 'Mystic Man.’
Even projects that didn’t see the light of day—an unreleased album for London Records fronting the group Baby Mother, demos with Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass—added to Jill’s experience... and her mystique.
Jill’s capacity for reinvention continued to serve her well as the 21st century unfolded. ‘Two,’ her 2001 indie album with in demand, multi-instrumentalist Chris Bruce (Seal, John Legend, Sheryl Crow), showcased Jill Jones eschewing studio chicanery in favor of stripped-down arrangements that emphasized her interpretive abilities. The set includes a stirring cover of Alex Chilton’s “Kangaroo.” In 2004, she continued exploring that vein on ‘Wasted', an album of rustic acoustic songs with The Grand Royals. An inspired acid jazz cover of Carly Simon’s “Why” became a featured selection on renown British guitarist, Ronny Jordan’s album ‘A Brighter Day.’ Ever the chameleon, Jill has continued to rock dance floors worldwide, too, with club-friendly singles including a provocative reworking of the Blondie/Giorgio Moroder classic “Call Me” with superstar producer Todd Terry (2000), “Someone to Jump Up” with Funky Junction (2007), and her euphoric 2009 Billlboard-charting circuit smash, “Living for the Weekend.”
Jill’s newest, breezy club stomp of an album, “I Am,” has been in the works for some time. On the eve of it’s release, Jill happily concedes, “‘I Am' is a happy, upbeat and anthemic dance album, full of optimism in life, love and cheekiness!”
Jill continues to look forward to and brainstorm projects: Another full length with Chris Bruce; a possible collaborative EP with N’Dea Davenport; an interactive art installation and perhaps a memoir or book of writings. “I feel eternally youthful in my capacity for renewal,” Jill admits.
Her playlist these days teems with new and vintage grooves ranging from Amr Diab, Fairouz, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, James Blake, Miles Davis and Toro Y Moi to Beirut, Maria Callas, Radiohead, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Cesaria Evora and Annenmaykantereit. Jill continues to draw inspiration from Federico Fellini, choreographer Pina Bausch, Frida Kahlo and Shirin Neshat - artists who explore the intricacies of interpersonal connections.
Other major influences integral in Jill’s life have been the incomparable Oprah Winfrey, Wim Wenders, Marcel Proust, Pablo Neruda and Paulo Coelho along with German philosopher Richard David Precht. Jill offers, "Meditation is a daily constant in my life as well…along with Kundalini yoga and my current studies in Arabic and German languages."
In addition to her newly adoptive home country of Germany, earlier this decade Jill returned to the sunny California of her formidable teen years - and Los Angeles, the city where her musical career first took off. “Everything has come full circle, and I’ve got a great sense of my own bearings,” she concludes. "Essentially 'I Am' a nomad, a bedouin at heart when it comes to living. Everywhere I have gone and everywhere I plan to go, I have always taken a few things with me: my heart, my laughter, my passion and my curiosity.....with those I can explore everything in and outside my comfort zones and always remain true...to me.”