Rhythm & blues and rock & roll – Salena’s road to fame

Mar 2019 Rhythm & blues and rock & roll – Salena’s road to fame

By Derek Mead

JOAN SHAW/SALENA JONES is American by birth but resident in England since 1965.
Salena sings Jazz – Latin – Pop – Funk Gospel – Cabaret – Swing – Rhythm and Blues as the forerunner to rock’n’roll – and has extended to the standards of the The Great American Songbook and International best-sellers.
She has moved beyond jazz boundaries and has been described as the “Queen of jazz”, and “ the beautiful voice of swing”: truly a diva of international songs.
These extracts are abbreviated from her biography ‘Have You Met Miss Jones’ by her manager Tony Puxley – with his permission. It is a detailed biography, well-illustrated and with a full discography plus CD with two discs and DVD. Copies can be obtained from Salena’s website http://www.salenajones.com/publications or from Amazon.

Newport News
Virginia USA to New York

Salena was born Joan Elizabeth Shaw in Newport News, Virginia, on January 29, 1938. She was abandoned and then fostered by her ‘true parents’ Louise and George Butler who lived on 27th Street and who legally adopted her.
Her mother sang in the house and her two uncles living in the same house were both musical. Joan was told she was directly descended from Crazy Horse, the famous Sioux Indian warrior chief and she is of North American Indian background.
The family lived quite well in Newport News. There was always music in the house. Joan was singing before she could talk and sang along with the radio. There was a piano in the house and her parents arranged private lessons for Joan, but all she wanted was to sing.
She attended church and joined the gospel choir when about eight years old also, singing in talent competitions and at church weddings. Supported by her parents, she visited local jazz clubs where she sang, although still very young. Joan became absorbed with music and singing. Her most important influence was Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald lived one block away. Her name was first mentioned in the music press on July 9, 1949, when her first record was released at 11 years old.
When 10/11 old, Joan visited her birth mother in New York and absorbed the music scene there. She then lived with an aunt in New York, attended a high school in the Bronx and put herself forward as a singer. She sang at the ‘Bon Soir’ night club in Greenwich Village when just 12. Joan was enjoying a happy musical childhood.
“My heart was set on becoming a singer and I was now in the right place to pursue my dreams”.

New York to Europe

Before moving to New York, Joan had researched the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem – “where stars are born and legends are made” – with their weekly amateur hour talent night. The Apollo has launched many artists including Ella Fitzgerald – Billie Holiday – Sarah Vaughan – Diana Ross – Gladys Knight – The Jackson Five – Marvin Gaye – Luther Vandross – Stevie Wonder – Aretha Franklin – and many more. Joan was thrilled to win her talent night singing September Song.
She eventually returned to Manhatten to live with her aunt and family in the Bronx, and the Apollo experience introduced her to many people – singers – arrangers – musicians, and professionally, things were going well. Interestingly, she was introduced to astrology and experienced psychic powers.
Joan has relied on star signs to help her assess newly-met
people and understand their behaviour. She was singing, meeting other artists, listening and learning to prove to others that she could sing. Sarah Vaughan was her heroine and she also met Miles Davis – Stan Getz – The Platters – Louis Armstrong – Billy Eckstein and Nat King Cole.
The Brill Building in New York was the most prestigious address for music and business in one building. Joan made an album ‘Joan Shaw in Person’ for Sue records. She was becoming more established, and for a time, was on the road with her own band ‘Joan Shaw and the Blues Express Orchestra’.
At this time, the popularity of rhythm and blues was evident as the forerunner of rock’n’roll. Well known R & B artists of the time included Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Della Reese and BB King, all of whom appeared on the same bill as Joan and influenced her career.
However, Joan admits she was leaning more to standards from the ‘Great American Songbook’, having grown up listening to a wide musical cross section and having broad tastes. Sadly, it was about this time she experienced racial prejudice and segregation particularly in the south – North Carolina – Georgia -Alabama. Another album ‘ Joan Shaw Sings for Swingers’ was recorded on the Epic Label and Joan was really enjoying her life – young, attractive, great music, great people, things were happening. An example is her appearance in Quebec sharing the stage with Oscar Peterson who also accompanied her.
Joan was made aware of the ‘Savannah Club’ at West 3rd Street and became a resident singer with a band and dancers.
This was followed by the Cotton Club in Miami, Florida, and was watched by such great names as Vic Damone, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole. In 1964 she was listed in in the ‘Downbeat’ jazz magazine as one of the most promising newcomers – Joan Shaw, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé.
Becoming increasingly concerned about racial prejudice, although native North American and brown, she took a one-
way ticket to Madrid in August, 1964, to pursue her ambition to become a famous singer.


On her first evening in Madrid, Joan visited the ‘Whisky and Jazz Club’ and asked to sing with the band. She sang three songs including ‘When I Fall in Love’ and the owner asked her to sing daily, and later wanted her to sign a contract.
She contacted KPM in London who arranged for her to record in England. Again, she purchased a one-way ticket, Madrid to London, but had to wait for some three weeks in Calais for a work permit.

KPM supplied the work permit for one single recording and Joan was on the ferry crossing and then the train, Dover to St Pancras. She was starting the next chapter of her life.
This was in January, 1965, and it was a cold winter. Joan’s first English decision was to change her name so it did not coincide with the up-and-coming Sandie Shaw. So Joan thought about her heroines, Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne, and used the SA from Sarah and the full name LENA to produce Salena and Joan became JONES. New country, new home, new name.
Salena loved her new home town and its music. Initially, she worked small clubs for KPM, whose office was in Denmark Street Soho, also known as ‘Britain’s Tin Pan Alley’ the cradle of British music.
In 1967, Salena moved to Earls Court where a neighbour and good friend in her block of flats was Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill. She met many people, particularly Keith Mansfield, who wrote the arrangements and produced the recordings for two fine CBS albums in 1969. She was to meet Keith again after some 35 years!
Salena left KPM and met, from America, Tony Bennett, Buddy Rich, Count Basie, and most importantly, Louis Armstrong, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. She was booked into Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, Britain’s top jazz club, and stayed for seven consecutive weeks, apparently still a record. There she met Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. Salena was working all over England for labels such as CBS, SONY, RCA and BMG. A particularly successful release was ‘A Walk In the Black Forest/Our Walk of Love’, composed by the German Horst Jankowski.
Salena appeared several times on ‘Top of the Pops’. One evening, she sang ‘Misty’ with Sarah Vaughan at Ronnie Scotts. She also appeared on British TV shows such as Tom Jones, Morecambe & Wise, Benny Hill, Les Dawson, The Two Ronnies, and also worked throughout Europe and Africa. Notably she performed a solo concert in the Royal Albert Hall and in the late 1970’s she was discovered by Japan. Then around 2000/2002 with her manager Tony Puxley she opened ‘The Salena Jones Restaurant Jazz and Music Room’ for a short time.
Salena has worked with many top British Musicians including Jack Parnell, Johnny Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttleton, and Kenny Baker. Those are some of the many highlights of Salena’s life in Europe.

Salena’s description of jazz is: “Jazz is only a feeling. Jazz is only standards sung the way people feel them – the way they want to interpret the story.”


In the early 1970s, Salena made an album ‘Alone and Together’ for RCA. It was played and released in Japan and the East and she was invited by a Tokyo music promoter Fred Ataka to appear in Japan. In 1978 Salena first visited Japan. She was very soon signed by JVC Victor and is still recording for them. She guesses that she has visited Japan at least 70 times and has sung across the length and breadth of the country and has also sung in other Asian countries notably China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia.
In 1994, JVC Victor had arranged for Salena to record in Rio de Janeiro with Antonio Carlos Jobim and his family. Jobim pioneered the bossa nova and wrote the huge hit ‘Girl from Ipanema’, and numerous other wonderful songs. He is a national hero in Brazil. Salena’s love affair with Japan continues.


On January 28, 2009 Salena married Keith Mansfield and they now live in the Ascot area of the county of Royal Berkshire. Keith is a celebrated composer known for his BBC TV themes for ‘Grandstand’ ‘Wimbledon’ and many others. Salena and Keith are excited about putting together concerts combining their music. She is sad that the once thriving music industry in Britain is now largely gone and that life can be very difficult within the industry. She considers herself very fortunate to have lived and worked professionally in a golden era of music with many performers whose names she believes will live forever.
She encourages people to seek out her recordings on ‘YouTube’, as both Joan Shaw and Salena Jones. She asks that anyone who goes to see her should come up and say “Hello”.

Salena is sad that the once thriving music industry in Britain is now largely gone and that life can be very difficult within the industry.

Salena performances:
Sunday 10 – afternoon
Ronnie Scott’s, Soho, London
Web: www.ronniescotts.co.uk
Tel: 020 7439 0747
Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25
Soho Jazz Club, Dean Street, London
Web: www.pizzaexpresslive.com Tel: 020 7439 4962
Saturday 20
Hampstead Jazz Club, New End, London
Web: hampsteadjazzclub.com Tel: 020 7916 0595
Friday 12
Wigan International Jazz Festival
Web: wiganjazzfest.co.uk
Tel: 07848 818276
Thursday 26
The Mansion, Moor Park,
Rickmansworth, Herts (private event)
Live at Zedel, Piccadilly, London
Web: www.brasseriezedel.com
Tel: 020 7734 4888