Brothers in Jazz – It’s a Family Affair

It’s often fascinating to discover how the greatest jazz musicians of all time grew from young, budding students to idols of the style.

As if there was ever any doubt, the role their upbringing played can be seen in the sheer number of family connections sprinkled throughout the upper echelons of jazz history.

Whether nature or nurture, we’ve pulled out a handful of our favourite ‘brothers in jazz’ which span almost a century of tradition!

So stay tuned for some great jazz listening tips which provide the soundtrack to stories like…

  • The jazz singer-pianist who outlived his famous sibling by 55 years
  • The brothers who split due to a disagreement about a song tempo
  • The album which featured an unrelated musician with the same family name, just to keep the theme!

All that and more next – special thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion over on Facebook!

The Dorsey Brothers

The early swing era saw no shortage of hugely popular big bands, and one of the finest was led by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey under the moniker The Dorsey Brothers.

Whilst they shared a decade of successful touring together, including working with a young Glenn Miller, family friction started to emerge…

In 1935, allegedly due to a dispute over the tempo of a song, Tommy Dorsey walked off stage and soon after set up his own rival group.

Following a 10-year hiatus, the brothers reunited in 1945 and worked together in various formats – including in their own ’50s TV show – until their respective deaths in 1956 & 1957.

Hear them together on this rendition of St. Louis Blues

Thad Jones, Hank Jones & Elvin Jones

The Jones brothers (not to be confused with the Jonas brothers!) are hands down my favourite in jazz history.

Pianist Hank Jones (1918) recorded more than 60 albums under his own name, but perhaps none more famous than his sideman appearance on Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else album.

Middle brother & trumpeter Thad Jones (1923) established himself as a stylish jazz soloist, contributing to some of the Count Basie Orchestra’s most classic 1950s hits. It’s perhaps his work as an arranger and composer that marks him out as a true jazz visionary.

Younger brother drummer Elvin Jones (1927) did nothing to dispel the notion that the baby of the family is the fun-loving freewheeler who gets away with what they want. Luckily for us, what he wanted was to push the boundaries of jazz with Coltranes classic quartet which gave us (amongst others) ms as My Favorite Things, Ascension & A Love Supreme!

Hear them together on the brilliantly conceived Keepin’ Up With The Joneses which features this trio of brothers with (get this…) another unrelated musician with the same name: Eddie Jones!

Nat & Freddie Cole

In the annals of jazz history, the Cole brothers β€” Nat King Cole and Freddie Cole β€” represent a fascinating familial mix of vocal and instrumental genius.

Nat King Cole, born in 1919, initially made his mark as a jazz pianist before becoming one of the most revered voices in American music history. With his smooth, baritone voice and impeccable phrasing, Nat King Cole delivered timeless classics such as “Unforgettable” and “Mona Lisa,” enchanting audiences worldwide.

Younger brother Freddie Cole, born in 12 years later, might not have reached the same commercial heights as his older sibling, but his talents as a pianist and vocalist are undeniable.

With a style that echoes the sophistication and warmth of Nat’s, Freddie carved out his own path in the jazz world, earning acclaim for his expressive performances and recordings.

Unusually for a story of two brothers, Freddy died 55 years after his older brother, providing us with a decades-long career which showcased a deep commitment to the craft of jazz that kept the Cole legacy alive and swinging.

Whilst less renowned in the wider jazz world, it’s worth noting that a further two members of the Cole family worked as jazz musicians: Ike Cole and Eddie Cole.

Cannonball & Nat Adderley

One of the most high-profile of all jazz brothers, Cannonball (b. 1928) & Nat (b.1931) Adderley not only forged stellar careers in their own right, they also worked together extensively.

Whilst older brother altoist Cannonball was arguably the more famous jazz musician – in part due to his work with Miles Davis in the 1950s – one of his biggest hits – Work Song – was written by Nat.

Ever-the-big-brother, Cannonball helped Nat establish himself with the album ‘Introducing Nat Adderley’ which they featured on together. Listen out for their glorious version of the jazz standard I Should Care.

The Brecker Brothers

Fast-forward to the modern era and two sets of brothers dominated the jazz charts.

The first on this list, Michael & Randy Brecker, rose to prominence in the late 60s and early 1970s as two of the most in-demand session musicians in New York.

Older brother Randy got his break an original member of Blood, Sweat & Tears, before he was joined by his sibling Michael in the horn section of the band Dreams.

Between 1975-1981 they recorded 6 acclaimed albums together as The Brecker Brothers – including the iconic jazz funk song Some Skunk Funk – before both spun off highly successful solo projects.

The duo reconvened in the early 1990s for two more albums under that name and continued to perform live together in various constellations until Michael Brecker’s death in 2007.

The Marsalis Brothers

If you think two brilliant jazz musicians in the same family is impressive, what about four?!

Raised in New Orleans by their jazz musician & educator father Ellis, Wynton and Branford Marsalis exploded onto the jazz scene in the early 1980s as the new Young Lions of jazz.

They were soon followed by younger brothers Delfeayo and Jason which completes the set.

  • Wynton Marsalis – trumpet
  • Branford Marsalis – tenor sax, soprano sax
  • Delfeayo Marsalis – trombone
  • Jason Marsalis – drums

Interesting, whilst recipients of a combined NEA Jazz Masters award, the family have never released a studio album together!

They did play live a bunch though…

Famous Jazz Brothers: Best of the Rest

That’s it for now – thanks for reading!

Of course, there are plenty more brothers in jazz music that we could have included. Some other great suggestions which we didn’t have space to include were:

  • Ronnie and Hubert Laws
  • Wayne and Alan Shorter
  • Jimmy, Percy and Tootie Heath
  • Wes, Buddy and Monk Montgomery
  • Bing and Bob Crosby

We’ll be back soon with an update – feel free to add your picks in the Facebook discussion here if you haven’t already.

Looking for more? Check out our (hard-fought) pick of the 50 best jazz albums of time

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.