Filed Under:  Entertainment

Bringing home the Grammy

22nd February 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wykcoff
Contributing Writer

Representing New Orleans – Jon Cleary Wins a Grammy

“I never thought Cleary and Grammy would be in the same sentence,” Jon Cleary says with a laugh on taking home the big award in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category for his terrific album GoGo Juice. “I was surprised to be up there.”

Though the keyboardist, vocalist and composer hails from England, his musical soul, style and influences come from the heart of New Orleans where he’s been residing since 1980. “Whenever I sit down and play you hear Allen (Toussaint), Mac (“Dr. John” Rebennack), James Booker and Professor Longhair.” That remains true on Cleary’s original material on GoGo Juice, which includes horn arrangements by Toussaint.



“Allen Toussaint sounded like Allen Toussaint,” says Cleary of the late, great legend’s approach to the arrangements for the album. “The horns were informed by the New Orleans where he grew up. He was working in a different era so he was unique. He was responsible for so much that has now become the New Orleans sound.”

Knowing Cleary’s devotion to this city’s music and its great pianists, the always gracious Toussaint, a Grammy winner himself, would surely have been thrilled by Cleary having been recognized with the award.

In the midst of the Grammy’s penchant for glitz, glamor and electronically produced music, Cleary’s disc stands apart. It’s music produced by real musicians playing real instruments.

“What appeals to me and appeals to a lot of people about New Orleans and its music is precisely that it exists outside of the mainstream culture,” Cleary offers. “Even though, ironically, it was what was done here in New Orleans that informed the mainstream musical culture.”

“The irony is that I’m doing what I’ve been doing for years and I will continue to be doing for years,” Cleary continues. “If all of a sudden people decide they like it because I won a Grammy, that’s interesting to me.”

Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen with guitarist Derwin “Big D” Perkins, bassist/vocalist Cornell Williams – both heard on the album – along with newcomer, drummer/vocalist A.J. Hall will be out on tour for several weeks. The band will be back home to hit the Maple Leaf on March 19. And even though he’s now a Grammy winner, the unpretentious Jon Cleary will resume his free, early evening, solo sets at d.b.a. on Thursday nights.

“I’m proud, in a humble capacity, to be representing little New Orleans on a big stage,” says Cleary with an English accent. Musically, his dialect, comes straight from this city’s heritage.

Nolatet Celebrates the Release of Dogs

Considering the brilliant musicians who make up Nolatet – vibraphonist/percussionist/ Mike Dillon, bassist James Singleton, drummer Johnny Vidacovich and pianist Brian Haas – the band’s debut album could certainly have been titled “Dangerous Dogs” or “Bad Dogs” rather than simply Dogs. These jazz masters are that relentless. On a kinder level, Singleton explains that the disc got its name because Haas has five large dogs. “Not only does he live with them in Sante Fe, but I’ve seen him on the road with two or three of them.” Okay for that.Nolatet-022216

Among the artists in Nolatet, which performs at Snug Harbor on Sunday, February 28, Haas is the only one of the group not residing in New Orleans and thus perhaps least known to local audiences. His brilliance as a composer and pianist is displayed all over the album including his keyboard work on Singleton’s “Bongo Joe,” a tune the bassist recorded as leader and with Astral Project. Haas offers up some aggressive single note runs and fat chords to renew the classic

“He is fearless,” Singleton offers. “He has no jazz industrial complex baggage. He’s classically trained, has no stylistic prejudices and is a complete wild man.”

On recording this tune, which remembers bongo player George Coleman, Singleton says: “I believe if a tune is worth writing down, performing and recording, it’s worth doing again. Duke did it, Monk did it, why can’t I? The tune stands up well and it makes me feel like I’m 28 (his age when he wrote it) again.”

The four musicians first performed together at the Telluride Jazz Festival in 2014 where Dillon, Singleton and Vidacovich had a gig. “We asked Brian to come up and play with us because we were all crazy about him,” says Singleton. Since then, the Nolatet did some other jobs here in New Orleans and Mississippi before heading into the Esplanade Studio to record Dogs for The Royal Potato Family label.

“The record is probably the tip of the iceberg,” Singleton says. “Everybody in the band has kind of been through the jazz mill in one way or another and has seen the importance of creating some kind of identity. There is certainly respect for the past but {there is} no misplaced reverence. All of us see the necessity to create a unique event every night.”

Though Haas and Dillon have long been involved in the punk rock scene including with the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Nolatet is made up of all rhythmic instruments, there are some wonderfully soft, warm moments on the disc. It starts out that way with the Dillon penned, melodic “Pops.” Here, Singleton picks up the bow to caress his bass.

“The bow brings out a very different texture than all of the percussive sounds that come out of the band,” Singleton explains. “It has a singing quality that makes the bass more lyrical.”

Soon after the Snug Harbor gig, Nolatet takes to the road for a national tour. Though Dillon and Haas are veterans of the road, Vidacovich and Singleton have established successful careers here in New Orleans.

“I’m giving it a go,” Singleton, 60, says with a bit of reluctance. “I wanted to do it in my early 30s. We’d like to make a big impact everywhere we go and after that just do high-paying festivals.”

This article originally published in the February 22, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.