Jazz has a long history of pianists with punch. Earl "Fatha" Hines, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons are just a handful. All had a tiger-like attack on the keyboard coupled with an acrobatic technique. About a month ago a CD by pianist Mike Jones arrived that sizzled with excitement and I thought to myself—the punch, it lives! Weeks later, critic, pal and Duke Ellington biographer Terry Teachout sent along an email raving about Mike.
The album is Plays Well With Others (Capri), featuring Mike on piano, Mike Gurrola on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. Mike's night job is performing during the long-running Penn & Teller Show in Las Vegas. Penn Jillette joins Mike on bass during the introductory musical segment of the evening.
Mike attended Boston's Berklee College of Music and remained there after graduation, playing with Herb Pomeroy and Gray Sargent. After performing on the Floating Jazz Festival on the S.S. Norway and the Queen Elizabeth ll and recording several pre-bop albums, Mike moved to Vegas. Since 2002, Mike has worked with Penn and Teller at Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino.
Mike's first release was Oh! Look at Me Now! on Chiarascuro, followed by Runnin' Wild (1996). Three more CDs followed in the 2000s. I reviewed his Live at Steinway Hall (1999) back in 2010 and was thunderstruck by his gift.
On Plays Well Together, Mike takes on 10 gorgeous standards like Detour Ahead, Harry Warren's I Know Why and So Do You, Corcorvado and I'm Old Fashioned. The two originals on the album are rollicking blues and both are foot-beaters. Mike is old school. His playing is first and foremost artful entertainment. Like those punch pianists of yore, Mike means to grab you and delight your senses. The strength of his playing and his choice of chords and improvised lines are show-stopping. But what makes this album special is how his playing curls around the part of your brain that responds favorably to warm, larger-than-life sound.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find the Mike Jones Trio's Plays Well With Others (Capri) here.
JazzWax clips: Here's I Thought About You and Mike's Box Viewing Blues...
JazzWax note: For more on Mike Jones, go here.