You have to give Penn Jillette and Teller credit. The two magicians/entertainers don't really need music during their shows. But the pair can't help it. They love jazz and improvisation, which they worship and view as musical slight of hand. They also really love pianist Mike Jones, who for the past 10 years has been their music director and performs duets with Jillette on bass on stage during their Las Vegas show. It's also not lost on Penn and Teller than audiences respond to Mike's playing.
When Mike isn't providing bop, stride and modern jazz stylings during shows for the illusionists, he's recording and releasing jazz albums. His latest is Roaring (Capri), with Katie Thiroux on bass and Matt Witek on drums. The album is a collection of standards that are perfectly suited for Mike's keyboard approach. What sets Mike apart is his perfect sense of swing, his ability to listen and enjoy what he hears, and his rock-solid technique. There's enormous confidence in his playing. His engaging chord voicings and Waller-esque excitement sweeps you up. I listened to Roaring so many times yesterday I had to remind myself whose excellent CD was on.
Pianists who come to mind when I listen to Mike are Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Hod O'Brien, Eddie Higgins and John Bunch. Guys who mix quite a cocktail of beautiful notes, lovely melody lines and impeccable timing. I love this album, particularly Yes Sir, That's My Baby, If I Had You, I Can't Believe You're in Love With Me—and all the rest. Mike pulls you in and you're only too happy to go for the ride.
If you can't get to Las Vegas to hear Mike, dig Roaring. There's a lot of magic in those hands.
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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