Keyboardist, composer, collaborator, and producer Joe Armon-Jones is a central force in London, England's vibrant jazz, R&B, and hip-hop scenes. He has an active solo career leading his own bands, is a founding member of the award-winning groove quintet Ezra Collective, and plays piano and other keyboards in the bands of saxophonist Nubya Garcia and tuba player Theon Cross. Since 2016 he's also worked and/or recorded and toured with Daniel Casimir, Makaya McCraven, Moses Boyd, SEED Ensemble, and Pharoahe Monch, to name a few. Armon-Jones' light touch and lyrical approach to the piano were informed by the traditional facility of Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson, while his funky groove-centric technique and kaleidoscopic aesthetic reveal the influence of Patrice Rushen, J Dilla, and Herbie Hancock. He is as comfortable supporting singers as he is instrumental soloists, as evidenced by both his 2017 EP Idiom -- which featured both Maxwell Owin and Oscar Jerome -- and his 2018 debut long-player, Starting Today, with Asheber, Ego Ella May, and Jerome. The Ezra Collective won Session of the Year at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards and was nominated for two years running as U.K. Act of the Year at the Jazz FM Awards. Armon-Jones comes from a musical family. His parents had their own working band; his mother was its vocalist and his father its pianist. He started going to gigs before he could even walk and began playing piano at five or six. With music all over the house, he absorbed the intensely technical approach of Peterson and the lyricism of Jamal. The first singer he was obsessed with was Nina Simone. He learned to improvise at 12 and was taken by the music of Rick Wakeman and Emerson Lake & Palmer at 13, which led him, in a roundabout way, to the jazz-funk fusion of Weather Report and Herbie Hancock, and the knottier compositions of Chick Corea and Return to Forever. In his later teens he encountered hip-hop and the music of J Dilla and Rushen, who put fusion and jazz funk into context; Dilla became his favorite musician for quite some time. While still in his early teens, he decided to pursue a musical vocation.
Armon-Jones' first recording session as a pianist was with Jasmine Powers on her self-issued 12" Stories & Rhymes, cut while he was attending Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. He graduated with honors in 2016 after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in music with a focus on jazz piano. Though he'd already been active on the South London scene for a couple of years, his career took off in 2016. He joined the Ezra Collective and helped to shape the signature meld of modern jazz-funk, dub, Afrobeat, and hip-hop that appeared on the EP Chapter 7. The same year, he worked with guitarist Oscar Jerome on his debut 12". In 2017, nourished by the influence of Jazz Re:freshed, he worked alongside bassist Daniel Casimir on his debut EP Escapee, and as pianist on saxophonist Nubya Garcia's globally acclaimed long-player Nubya's 5ive. Ezra Collective was already an essential part of the live scene in South London, and they cut and released Juan Pablo: The Philosopher in 2018 on Enter the Jungle. Armon-Jones and Owin collaborated on Idiom, their debut EP on YAM; it was released to universal critical acclaim. The following year, Armon-Jones signed with Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label and issued his debut long-player, Starting Today, with Jerome on guitar, Moses Boyd on drums, and guest spots by Asheber, Ego Ella May, and Big Shaker on vocals. In addition to playing electrifying live sets with Ezra Collective and on his own, Armon-Jones managed to play on half-a-dozen recordings including Makaya McCraven's Where We Come From: Chicago X London Mixtape, the Moses Boyd Exodus' Displaced Diaspora, and Garcia's When We Are EP. The game-changing We Out Here double-disc anthology also appeared. In 2019, Ezra Collective released the full-length You Can't Steal My Joy, and based on its critical and popular success, the band toured Europe, the U.S. (including a widely acclaimed gig at SXSW in Austin, Texas), and Japan. Armon-Jones issued the Icy Roads EP, worked on SEED Ensemble's Driftglass and Blinker Golding's Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers (with Casimir), and guested with Owin on Pinty's City Limits EP. In September, after winning Session of the Year at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards and being nominated for the second year in a row as U.K. Act of the Year at the Jazz FM Awards, Armon-Jones released his second Brownswood album, Turn to Clear View, which was co-produced by Owin with a studio band that included Boyd, Jerome, Dylan Jones, and Garcia, among others. The set included guest vocal spots by Georgia Anne Muldrow, Asheber, Jhest, and Obongjayar. ~ Thom Jurek