Jones dropped out of college to move to New York, where he joined the Lucky Millinder band. In subsequent years he worked with Andy Kirk, Buddy Johnson, and Cab Calloway, and studied under Eddie Barefield. Jones spent several years as Duke Ellington's first trumpeter in the 1960s, and worked as an arranger and transcriber with Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Among his arrangements were "El Busto", "Cootie's Caravan", "The Prowling Cat", and "The Opener".
After leaving Ellington, Jones became director of an alternative school in New York, and directed the Police Athletic League's bugle corps. He died as a result of complications from diabetes in March 2001.