No matter how many times Ralph Jones had played a piece of music, he always practiced it. As the principal bass for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Jones treated every rehearsal like a performance.
“He just practiced, practiced, practiced,” said his wife Gloria Jones, the orchestra’s associate principal bass.
Described by ASO music director Robert Spano as “a consummate musician,” Ralph Jones’s enthusiasm for his craft did not go unnoticed by his ASO peers.
“Ralph had a cooperative spirit, and I’d say more than most,” said Christopher Rex, principal cello for the ASO. “He loved collaborations and was very eager to work with others.”
Mark Yancich, ASO principal timpani, said Jones’ ability to teach others was unmatched. At least a dozen times, the two performed part of Mahler’s First Symphony together, Yancich’s timpani accompanying Jones’ bass.
“Each time, he’d come to me before the first rehearsal, and he and I would go over it,” Yancich said. “As I learned from him, we became a team.”
Ralph Martin Jones joined the ASO in 1970 and became the principal bass in 1977. He retired at the end of the 2012-2013 season, as complications of an aggressive throat cancer left him too exhausted to play. Jones, who lived in Atlanta with his wife and two children, died Wednesday. He was 68.
A memorial service is planned for 7 p.m. Sunday at Peachtree Christian Church. Cremation Society of Georgia was in charge of arrangements.
Jones didn’t start playing the bass until he was 17, but it was a life changing experience, his wife said. Born in Decatur, Ill., Jones came from a meager background. As he grew to love the bass and required a teacher, private lessons were not in the family budget. His teacher, Henry Loew, who was the principal bass with the St. Louis Symphony, told Jones not to worry about the money. The only thing Loew asked was that Jones returned the favor to other young people once he was able.
Jones not only taught a number of students, but he helped young people acquire instruments, Rex said.
“He would talk to his friends and arrange money, if that is what the student needed,” he said. “He had such compassion.”
Patti Morgan saw Jones’ compassion on display through her 16-year-old son, Robert, who’d been taking lessons from Jones for a little more than a year.
“I know Robert became a better bass player, but [Jones] also connected with him beyond the music,” she said. “I could tell he really cared about his students.”
Gloria Jones said her husband was committed to teaching the bass, as much as he was devoted to performing.
“I think of him as a quiet worker who never wanted to advertise himself,” she said. “It was never about him.”
In addition to his wife of 26 years, Jones is survived by his two children, son Christopher Douglas Jones and daughterShelley Marissa Jones, both of Atlanta; and sisters, Donna Marie Beard of Atlanta, and Sharon Elaine Karloski of Decatur.
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