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Mike Jones “The Show Before The Show” at the Northwest Jazz Festival in Historic Lewiston, NY
Friday, August 23, 2019 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pmFree
This special festival engagement celebrates The Show Before the Show, Jones’s new Capri Records album with bassist/magician Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller.
“The most remarkable pure technique of any piano player working in jazz today.” – Neil Tesser, Author of The Playboy Guide to Jazz.
“Yup, this is Jonesy, our piano player. He’s a monster.” – Penn Jillette
Jones, one of our most accomplished mainstream jazz pianists, has been the musical director for Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show since early 2002, playing both before the show begins and, when called upon, during the act. As the new millennium began, Jillette, who played the electric bass as a pastime, began to seriously study the acoustic instrument. Joining Jones on stage during the early set (“the show before the show”), Jillette and the pianist would romp through well-loved standards, providing the audience with a taste of first-rate jazz. Nearly twenty years later, the duo still sounds like they’re having the time of their lives.
As Jillette has said, “When you ask Jonesy what kind of music we play, he says, “Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown.” When you ask me, I say, “Oscar Peterson and…a bass player.” I wear a hat and a coat, and even though I’m very recognizable, you just don’t expect the pre-show bass player to be someone important. I’m not lit, and people don’t notice me…I make all the money doing the Penn and Teller show, but the 45 minutes before the show is just wonderful for me. It’s very humbling to play with Jonesy. He’s never wrong.”
Standards make up the bulk of The Show Before the Show, including such imperishable tunes as “Broadway,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” and “There is No Greater Love” as well as the Bossa Nova classics “Corcovado” and “Manha de Carnival.” (There’s also room for Jones’s own joyful “Box Viewing Blues.”) . Throughout, Jones displays his matchless virtuosity, his prodigious technical gifts and sweeping knowledge of the jazz tradition allowing him to mingle swing, pre-swing and stride idioms effortlessly and with utmost taste. Although he works seamlessly with his duet partner, Jones is also given a chance to demonstrate his one-man-band abilities on the closing track, “Exactly Like You.” A tour de force of dashing pianistics, the performance becomes a showcase for Jones’s two-handed wizardry. For his part, Jillette, the perfect support player, grounds the music with rhythmically sure and harmonically apt playing, even getting off some snappy solos in the bargain. “I can’t imagine anyone would see my position in jazz and not think it’s the most enviable possible,” Jillette has stated. “I get to play professionally, not need the money and play with the best person in the world. Beat that!”
Graduating from the Berklee College of Music in 1986, Mike Jones remained in the Boston area working with such eminent local players as Herb Pomeroy and Gray Sargent. After significant East Coast performances, appearances at the Floating Jazz Festival on the S.S. Norway and the Queen Elizabeth ll, and a series of acclaimed recordings that established him as a world-class pianist steeped in the pre-bop jazz tradition, Jones relocated to Las Vegas where he caught the eye of Penn Jillette, who in 2002, brought Jones onboard for the nightly Penn and Teller show. He has released two highly acclaimed albums on Capri Records: 2012’s Plays Well With Others and 2016’s Roaring. He is a Kawai Pianos artist.
What Mike Jones Does
Specifically, Mike Jones performs music from what’s become known as the Great American Songbook for more people each year than any jazz pianist in the world. Really. This is because, as music director for the enduringly popular Penn & Teller Show in Las Vegas and other venues across the globe, he plays these classic standards in the “warm-up” hour – and during and between the onstage magic – for the millions of visitors who attend the show. In a career spanning four decades, Jones has wowed audiences with his virtuoso skills and stylistic flair – nowhere to greater acclaim than at the sold-out houses in New York that marked Penn and Teller’s 2015 six-week return to Broadway.
In general? Mike Jones plays the piano as if had more than 88 notes and as if each of his fingers were Usain Bolt.
How He Does It
Mike Jones is a thoroughly modern throwback to what used to be called the “two-handed pianist,” which is not as obvious as it sounds. The term describes a jazz pianist who makes full use of the entire range of the instrument, and whose left-hand prowess matches that of his right. Early jazz styles such as Stride and classic Swing offer prime meat for such virtuosic pianists, and when it comes to most effectively demonstrating the durable beauty of these idioms, Mike Jones has drawn plenty of praise as the modern master of these styles. Small wonder, since Jones used two of history’s greatest such pianists – the peerless Oscar Peterson and the latter-day stride exponent Dave McKenna – as his early models.
To quote one review: “While Jones’s right hand reels off vertiginous runs that rival the pyrotechnics of such legends as Oscar Peterson, Earl Hines, and Art Tatum, his left spins elaborate walking bass lines – at top speeds they turn into manic stride patterns – that seem less like accompaniment than a separate and completely satisfying performance.” That’s how he does it. And then he throws in a running commentary of quick-witted musical allusions – everything from old torch songs to The Twilight Zone theme – as a coup de grace.
For more than 30 years he’s dazzled listeners, in performance and on celebrated recordings, with displays of solo pianistic wonder. When his hands are moving faster than the eye can follow, he approximates the splendor of a full jazz orchestra.
How He Got Here
Born and raised in Buffalo, NY – the only American city named after a huge smelly mammal – Jones attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, and after college he remained in the city, working with such eminent local players as Herb Pomeroy and Gray Sargent. After significant East Coast performances, appearances at the Floating Jazz Festival on the S.S. Norway and the Queen Elizabeth ll, and a series of recordings that established him as a world-class pianist steeped in the pre-bop jazz tradition, Jones relocated to Las Vegas. There he caught the ear of Penn Jillette who, in 2002, brought Jones onboard for the nightly Penn and Teller show at Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.
His debut album, Oh! Look At Me Now! (1994), went on to become Chiaroscuro Records’ best-selling title by a new artist; the follow-up, Runnin’ Wild, was released in 1996 to rave reviews. Jones has since recorded three more highly successful CDs in the following decade, including the 2005 album recorded at the world-renowned Green Mill in Chicago – a venue with which, since his first appearance there in 2002, the pianist has had a regular trio gig at his disposal.
Jones’s impressive technique allows him to carry the show all by himself, and he frequently appears in a solo context. But, as those who have attended the Penn and Teller Show can attest, Jones has also performed with one other instrumentalist for years now. That “other instrumentalist” would be the self-described taller member of the comic duo, Penn Jillette, who plays bass with Jones – or “Jonesy, the Jazz Demon,” as he is fondly known around the show – during the introductory musical segment each evening.
In 2013, Jones released Plays Well With Others, his first album on the Capri Records label. He is a Kawai Pianos artist.