To analyze the function of the chromosomal kinase JIL-1, we generated an allelic series of hypomorphic and null mutations. JIL-1 is an essential kinase for viability, and reduced levels of JIL-1 kinase activity lead to a global change in chromatin structure. In JIL-1 hypomorphs, euchromatic regions of polytene chromosomes are severely reduced and the chromosome arms condensed. This is correlated with decreased levels of histone H3 Ser10 phosphorylation. These levels can be restored by a JIL-1 transgene placing JIL-1 directly in the pathway mediating histone H3 phosphorylation. We propose a model where JIL-1 kinase activity is required for maintaining the structure of the more open chromatin regions that facilitate gene transcription.