Jones was born to a European shopkeeper and Paretekorae Poutama, at Harataunga. His father deserted the family shortly after he was born and he was sent to be the tamaiti whangai of his aged great-great uncle, Te Hurinui Te Wano.
The years with Te Hurinui steeped him in traditional knowledge and genealogy, which he came to love and dedicated his life to recording. After leaving the farm in 1920 he became an interpreter for the Native Department, involved in land consolidation. Early impressions by assimilationist Maori in the department proved unfounded, however, and he became an ally of the more independent-minded Kingitanga movement.
He ran for Parliament seven times, but unsuccessfully. In 1940 he left government service and returned to manage family and other Maori businesses. From 1929 or earlier he had been collecting and transcribing Maori traditional songs, genealogy and history, and was a prolific author. He translated English classics into Maori as well, including three Shakespeare plays. He published many articles in Maori-language and Maori-interest journals, but his most important contribution was his transcription, editing and translation of Nga Moteatea, the largest collection of pre-European Maori songs. Jones also served as second president of the New Zealand Maori Council and on a number of other committees, and was Maori men's tennis champion from 1924 to 1928.
He married twice, and while he had no birth children, he and his first wife had at least three tamaiti whangai from relatives.
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