Olu Dara Jones (born Charles Jones III; January 12, 1941) is an American cornetist, guitarist and singer. He is the father of rapper Nas.
Olu Dara was born Charles Jones in Natchez, Mississippi, the son of Ella Mae and Charles Jones. He moved to New York in 1963. He first became known as a jazz musician, playing alongside avant-garde musicians such as David Murray, Henry Threadgill, Charles Brackeen, and Art Blakey. He has formed two of his own bands, The Okra Orchestra and The Natchezippi Band, the first a “theatrical nightclub band” and the second a concert band.
His first album under his own name, 1998's In the World: From Natchez to New York, revealed another aspect of his musical personality: the leader and singer of a band immersed in African-American tradition, playing an eclectic mix of blues, jazz, and storytelling, with tinges of funk, African popular music and reggae. His second album Neighborhoods, with guest appearances by Dr John and Cassandra Wilson, followed in a similar vein.
Rapper Nas (Nasir Jones) is Dara's son. He encouraged his father to record the music he was playing with his band, and guested on "Jungle Jay" from In the World. Dara played the cornet on the track "Life's a Bitch" from Nas's debut album Illmatic in 1994 and on the song "Dance" from God's Son, a posthumous tribute to Anne Jones his former wife and Nas's mother. In 2004, his vocals and trumpet were featured on Nas's single "Bridging the Gap", and the title track from his album Street's Disciple. The song "Poppa Was A Player" off The Lost Tapes was inspired by Nas' childhood times around Olu Dara.
He was given the name "Olu Dara," which literally translated means "God is good" in Yoruba language, by a Yoruba priest when he returned to America. Dara has traveled throughout Africa and Europe.
Dara is also an accomplished playwright and actor, staging Blues Rooms to strong acclaim in New York City and Fairfax, Virginia during the 1990s.
- In the World: From Natchez to New York (Atlantic, 1998)
- Neighborhoods (Atlantic, 2001)
With The Be Good Tanyas
- Chinatown (2003): Cornet on "Horses" and "Junkie Song"
With Dirty Dozen Brass Band
- Medicated Magic (2002): vocal on "Junko Partner"
With Craig Harris
- Cold Sweat Plays J. B. (JMT, 1999)
- Tributes (OTC, 1985)
With Julius Hemphill
- Flat-Out Jump Suite (Black Saint, 1980)
With Oliver Lake
- Heavy Spirits (Freedom, 1975)
With Brother Jack McDuff
- Who Knows What Tomorrow's Gonna Bring? (Blue Note, 1970)
With David Murray
- Flowers for Albert: The Complete Concert (India Navigation, 1976)
- Ming (Black Saint, 1980)
- Home (Black Saint, 1981)
- Live at Sweet Basil Volume 1 (Black Saint, 1984)
- Live at Sweet Basil Volume 2 (Black Saint, 1984)
- The Tip (DIW, 1995)
- Jug-A-Lug (DIW, 1995)
With Cecil McBee
- Flying Out (India Navigation, 1982)
With James Newton
- The African Flower (1985)
With Don Pullen
- The Sixth Sense (Black Saint, 1985)
With Henry Threadgill
- When Was That? (1982)
- Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket (1983)
With James Blood Ulmer
- Are You Glad to Be in America? (1980)
- Free Lancing (1981)
- No Escape from the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions (2003)
With Various Artists
- Kansas City Soundtrack (1995)
- Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (2007) Performing Domino's "When I See You", with the Natchezippi Band and Donald Harrison
With Cassandra Wilson
- Days Aweigh (JMT, 1987)
- Belly of the Sun (2002): cornet on "Road So Clear"
- Cassandra Wilson – Days Aweigh (1987): "Electromagnolia" (also with vocals and arrangement by Dara)
- Henry Threadgill Sextett – Easily Slip Into Another World (1987): "I Can't Wait Till I Get Home"
- Bob Stewart – Goin' Home (1989): "Bell and Ponce"
Songs with Nas
- "Life's a Bitch" (Illmatic, 1994)
- "Jungle Jay" (In the World: From Natchez to New York, 1998)
- "Dance" (God's Son, 2002)
- "Bridging the Gap" (Street's Disciple, 2004)
- "Street's Disciple" (Street's Disciple, 2004)