Born in Los Angeles, California on June 8, 1968, Jones' earliest exposure to music was through his father, Willie Jones II, an accomplished and notable jazz pianist, who offered guidance and inspiration to his gifted son. Dedicated to the further development of his skills, the younger Jones spent the next few years working diligently with acclaimed drummers and music instructors and began performing with distinguished musicians by the time he was in his teens. He completed his academic training after receiving a full scholarship to the California Institute of the Arts where he studied under the tutelage of the legendary Albert Tootie Heath. Before he was a semifinalist in the 1992 Thelonious Monk Jazz Drum Competition, Jones co-founded jazz band Black Note. Influenced by the rich soulful energy of the West Coast bop movement, Black Note's hard-swing sound propelled them to first place in the prestigious John Coltrane Young Artist Competition in 1991. Jones contributed his skillfulness as both musician and producer on all four Black Note recordings: 43rd & Degnan and L.A. Underground (World Stage Records), Jungle Music (Columbia) and Nothin' But the Swing (Impulse!). By 1994, the band had toured Europe and across the U.S. and was the opening act for Wynton Marsalis.