Starting out on trumpet, Rufus switched to drums at the age of 13. He got an early start in 1954 with Lionel Hampton before being drafted. While stationed at Fort Jackson, Rufus played in a quintet every Saturday night at the black United Service Organization clubhouse in Columbia. He later played with Henry "Red" Allen, and Maynard Ferguson's Orchestra (1959–1963). He led his own quintet during 1963-1964 (producing a Cameo LP, his only album as a leader). Jones gained fame for his flamboyant work with Count Basie in the mid-1960s and backed that up with Duke Ellington in the latter half of the decade. He notably also appeared with James Brown.
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