Our Harlem Jazz Saturdays series continues with a performance by bassist Mimi Jones.
Doors at 6:00pm. Set times: 7:00pm and 9:30pm.
No music charge. Two-item minimum per person at tables. Reserve a table.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
If, in Duke Ellington’s words, “A drum is a woman,” then a bass is a princess. And for the two decades she’s been on the scene, bassist/vocalist/producer/label owner Mimi Jones has reigned supreme, as a sidewoman to an impressive coterie of musicians and as a leader with two CD’s on her own Hot Tone Music label, A New Day (2009) and Balance (2014) – her critically acclaimed recording that featured compositions by Roy Ayers, Bob Dorough and Adele.
Her third CD for the label, Feet in the Mud, is her most powerful, propulsive, and personal recording to date.
“Feet in the Mud to me means being true to one’s own self despite your race, age, or color,” Jones says. “It’s about finding true happiness and joy, having a free spirit and an earthy, soulful connection to the land.”
Jones is supported by an engaging and ingenious collection of musicians: pianist Jon Cowherd (Brian Blade, Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash), drummer Jonathan Barber (Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Erykah Badu), and soprano saxophonist Samir Zarif (Ellis Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Aaron Neville).
Whether in trio or quartet configurations Cowherd’s finessed acoustic and Fender Rhodes pianism, Barber’s grooving, in-the-pocket drumming, and Zarif’s serpentine-fired sax lines, provide the perfect simpatico support for Jones’s deeply satisfying basslines and haunting vocals, which are firmly anchored in the jazz tradition and are stylistically elastic enough to encompass other genres.
The uplifting and buoyant “Elevate,” dedicated to pianist, collaborator, and friend Arcolris Sandoval, swings in a festive 7/4 meter, which, according to Jones, “accelerates and breathes so it naturally ecelerate as they elevate.” Jones’s funky, fusionistic, syncopated take on the Beatles pop classic “Blackbird” is also rendered in 7/4 and was arranged by friend and composer/arranger Enoch Smith Jr. In contrast, there’s an ethereal rendering of Wayne Shorter’s “Fall,” from Miles Davis’s Nefertiti LP, and “Applause,” a sober Jones-penned elegy to saxophonist Rebecca Buxton, a friend who committed suicide in the fall of 2015.
“She was one of my peers,” Jones sadly recalls. “I composed this song based on what she might have felt as she was fading away. There are so many who suffer from a heavy depression. I used to be one, and so I have empathy and hope this song will maybe slow us down and make us check on folks we love and may bring more awareness to mental and emotional illness.”
Other compositions on Feet in the Mud include shout-outs to jazz greats. “The-Min-Or-Way” (“The Minor Way”) is Jones’s three-in-one, boppish, blues-tinged homage to Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman. “I imagined the three of them jamming and hanging,” Jones says. Speaking of Monk, the pointillistically-pulsed “Lyman’s Place” was inspired by a documentary Jones is producing on legendary pianist Bertha Hope, wife of legendary bop-era piano virtuoso Elmo Hope, who knew Monk and Bud Powell. “I learned that Monk had a great influence on her sound,” Jones says. “She and her husband knew Monk personally and they would all hang out a lot on Lyman’s Place, because Monk’s family lived on that street, which happens to be around the corner from where I grew up and live now.”
“One 4JB” is a straight-ahead 4/4 swinger dedicated to Jonathan Barber, and “The Grinder” is an equally fast and furious workout. The evocatively titled “Mr. Poo Poo ” is based on a character created by Jones that “represents adversity. We all have to deal with Mr. Poo Poo from time to time,” she says with a laugh. “The A section of the song continuously turns down the beat into an upbeat, turning the beat around making it difficult to play on. Just when you think you have it, it switches on you.”
“The American” is a slow-tempoed composition pulsed with Jones’s brooding basslines similar to the ones the great Charlie Haden laid down on Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.” The song belies the combination of the Americas by the Africans, Europeans settlers, and Native Indians for better or worse “literally planted their feet in the mud” developing an American civilization. The CD’s title track—“Feet In The Mud” written by Jones’s husband, Luis Perdomo—pleasure-glides with some fusion-friendly, Fender Rhodes-funk. “I attended a festival in France and despite the rain people happily stayed and danced in the mud, like hippies in the 70s, carefree and in love with life and music,” Luis recalls. “I really loved this vision and decided to use it for the title.” And Perdomo, who married Jones in 2006, is the love subject on the lovely slow samba( that’s too sappy for me, lol) “Happy” is a shout out to those in love, dedicated to Luis from Mrs Jones.
The jazz world is happy that Mimi Jones came on the scene. Born Miriam Sullivan in New York City on March 25, 1972 of parents from Barbados, she was raised in the Bronx. Jones grew up listening to Al Green, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, and Earth, Wind & Fire. She took up the guitar at the age of twelve when she and studied with James Bartow at the Harlem School of the Arts, where she studying classical music, voice, drums, and dance. She switched to cello after being accepted at the famed La Guardia High School of Music and Art because the school had no guitar teacher. A school instructor, Justin Diccioccio, heard her messing around with an acoustic bass and recruited her to play in the school jazz band that included budding young lions such as Abraham Burton, Eri McPherson, Walter Blanding Jr. and more.
“Right off the bat, I loved Oscar Peterson, and Slam Stewart. Milt Hinton took me under his wing, and gave me a scholarship to his jazz camp at Skidmore College,” Jones fondly recalls. “I grew up listening to a lot of Miles Davis, so I heard Ron Carter, and I also listened to Sam Jones.’
Jones continued her studies with band director Justin Di Cioccio, who would years later head the jazz program at the Manhattan School of Music, where she enrolled with a scholarship after graduating from LaGuardia. At MSM, Jones studied with classical teacher Linda McKnight and attended programs and concerts with Jazzmobile, woodshedding with bassist Lisle Atkinson. “He really helped me construct basslines, understand my role with as a bass player, play in tune, and play with a bow,” Jones says of Atkinson, who, as a graduation present, gave Mimi the German-made Juzek double bass she plays to this day. She worked at age 17-19 with drummer Jesse Hameen III and saxophonist Myron Walden and they won three competitions at the Apollo Theater. She also studied with Barry Harris and Latin bassist Guillermo Edgehill. Guitarist Rodney Jones was a big influence on Mimi’s playing and assisting on her auditioning at MSM.
After graduating from MSM with a B.A. in Music, Jones set off to Japan for her first major gig, a tour with Japanese flutist/saxophonist Masa Wada’s combo with drummer Denis Charles, later a mentor to Jones. She became a Jazz Ambassador and toured Africa, Europe, Russia, China, South and Central America, and the Caribbean for the U.S. State Department. Her vast work as a sidewoman includes gigs with Rachel Z, Kenny Barron, Lionel Hampton, Ravi Coltrane, Roy Hargrove, Ingrid Jensen, Sean Jones, Mala Waldron, and Luis Perdomo, whom she married in 2006. She played on Terri Lyne Carrington’s Grammy Award-winning Mosaic Project.
Jones has also been a member of the Tia Fuller Quartet since its inception 12 years prior.
She recalled auditioning for the Beyonce Band, to which Mimi did not get accepted.
“So I decided that, instead of being in a stupor, I was going to take that time to create something for myself.” She created an alter ego for herself. “Mimi Jones allows me to be able to step outside myself and try some things that I felt I couldn’t do when I’m in my logical, conscious mind,” she explains.
And so, with a new name and a new attitude, Jones launched her own record label, Hot Tone Music, in 2009. “The label was created to give chances to those who may have been overlooked and denied the necessary support and knowledge to develop,” says Jones.
Her debut recording for the label, her first CD as a leader, A New Day, with keyboardist Hayama, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Marvin Sewell, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, was released that year. In 2014, Jones released her second CD, Balance, with pianists Perdomo, Hayama, and Enoch Smith Jr.; guitarists Sewell and Sean Harkness; drummers Shirazette Tinnin and Justin Faulkner; trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; flutist and vocalist Camille Thurman; and singer Mala Waldron. Hot Tone Music simultaneously released the label debuts of Tinnin’s Humility: Purity of My Soul and Thurman’s Origins.
In addition to her duties as a bandleader and label owner, Jones produces a weekly residency entitled The Lab Session at Manhattan’s Bar Thalia/Symphony Space, with a rotating cast of some of the finest New York City has to offer. Jones is also a member of the D.O.M.E Experience, a collabrative project with pianist ArcoIris Sandoval that includes musicians such as: Steve Wilson, Dayna Stevens, Clair Daley, Dave Gilmore and Bob Stewart to name a few.
Which brings us to Feet in the Mud: A riveting recording that shows just how deeply rooted her music is, and how it anchors and emboldens her to be her truest self, artistically and personally. “When I think of this album,” says Jones, “I think of freedom without shame or judgment, removing the virtual walls we put up to protect our feelings and our vulnerability.”