Local trombonist celebrates 101st birthday

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published June 6, 2016


ROYAL OAK — When resident Robert Jones was honored with the Royal Oak Commission for the Arts lifetime achievement award at the age of 100 last year during the annual Celebration of the Arts, many thought the revelry wouldn’t be topped.

Jones’ daughter, Beverly Garcia, described the event as moving, especially when 24 trombone players began playing from the balcony of the middle school theater.

“A lot of them were his students,” she explained.

Jones is a famous name to those in the know, teaching and playing trombone for decades. He was featured in Life magazine in 1945 as a principal trombonist.

“Life magazine picked the top musicians in the country to make an all-star orchestra, and he was chosen as the trombone player,” Garcia said. “So he was in Life magazine as the best trombonist in the country.

“We don’t like to brag much.”

And although these accolades are impressive, Jones’ latest fête, though definitely more understated, was equally impressive.

Tucked in a booth at Niki’s Restaurant on Main Street in downtown Royal Oak last Friday, Jones celebrated his 101st birthday surrounded by his three daughters, many friends and his second family at the friendly Greek diner.

Jones has been coming to the restaurant every day for as long as many can remember. When he can’t make it in, they prepare some of his favorite foods for takeout.

“He is such a sweetheart,” said waitress Vanessa Kaiser. “We love having him.”

Daughter Sheila Jones said they couldn’t have better care for him than at Niki’s, and they always know what he wants to have.

“Vanessa will think of things he hasn’t had in a while and knows he would like,” Sheila said, adding that customers will often pick up his tab.

Last year, the restaurant threw a big party for his 100th birthday.

Everyone at Niki’s knows him by name, and waitresses used to go out to the car to help him into the place, and then help him back into his car when his meal was done. He needed the help because he would drive a short distance to the restaurant alone until he hung up his car keys for good at 99.

Now, good friends, caregivers and his daughter, Barbara Jones, bring him.

Jones has been known to get on his bike and go for a ride around the neighborhood.

“We’re trying to discourage it at this point,” Sheila quipped.

He hasn’t been out lately, but his daughters said he rides his stationary bike every day. One of his neighbors said there are still bike sightings that always garner cheers and awe.

His family said doctors credit his strong lungs from a lifetime of playing trombone as a source of his longevity. He maintains them every day with cardio exercise. Sheila said another secret is a couple of glasses of wine a day.

The restaurant was adorned in a luau theme, and Kaiser served his favorite foods during the June 3 party. Jones’ actual birthday is June 4.

Humble about the honor, Jones let his family do the talking, as hearing is a bit of an issue in his older years, but his daughters said he still has all his wits about him.

They said these days he likes to fill his time with word puzzles, watching Detroit sports and practicing his penmanship.

“He always says he doesn’t want to write like an old man,” Sheila said.

He also enjoys visits from his great-grandchildren and granddogs and will never tire of music.

“He loves it when I come over and tell him about different performances,” said longtime family friend Nellie Wardrop.

Wardrop used to co-own Royal Music, which was across the street from Niki’s Restaurant, and Bob taught trombone there for about 25 years, as well as at Wayne State University, Cranbrook, Catholic Central and Divine Child.

Wardrop’s husband also played with Jones in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.