The oldest of the three Jones brothers (Hank, Thad and Elvin), Henry Hank Jones was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi and grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, where he studied piano at an early age and came under the influence of Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. By the age of 13 Jones was performing locally in Michigan and Ohio. While playing with territory bands in Grand Rapids and Lansing he met Lucky Thompson, who invited him to New York City in 1944 to work at the Onyx Club with Hot Lips Page.
In New York, Jones regularly listened to leading bop musicians, and was inspired to master the new style. While practicing and studying the music he worked with John Kirby, Howard McGhee, Coleman Hawkins, Andy Kirk, and Billy Eckstine. In autumn 1947 he began touring in Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, and from 1948 to 1953 he was accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald, developing a harmonic facility of extraordinary taste and sophistication.